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Last Updated: Monday, 15 August 2005, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Surge in alcohol-related deaths
Person drinking alcohol (generic)
Yorkshire and the Humber has the worst figures in England and Wales
The number of alcohol-related deaths has increased by nearly a fifth in four years, figures show.

The Office for National Statistics data revealed deaths in England and Wales rose by from 5,525 in 2000 to 6,544 in 2004 - an 18.4% increase.

The highest increase was in Yorkshire and the Humber which saw a 46.5% hike. The Liberal Democrats, which obtained the data, said people were "literally drinking themselves to death", but the government said it was taking action.

The figures detail deaths where the underlying cause was directly-related to alcohol, such as liver disease and alcohol poisoning.

RISE IN ALCHOL DEATHS BY REGION
Yorkshire and the Humber - 46.5% (2004 total 627)
North East - 28.4% (430)
West Midlands - 24.2% (750)
North West - 24.1% (1,179)
Wales - 21.4% (419)

The revelations come as the government is in the process of relaxing the drinking laws.

From November, pubs and other licensed premises, which have been given council permission, will be allowed to open for longer than the existing laws allow.

Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone said: "These figures are deeply worrying.

"The government must address the underlying reasons why people are drinking themselves - literally to death.

"I am worried that the proposed change to licensing laws will add to this startling increase in drink-related deaths.

Licensing

"The government should pause for more thought before it brings in the changes to the licensing laws in November."

Martin Plant, professor of addiction studies at the University of the West of England, said the rise in deaths had been fuelled by the increase in binge drinking.

"In recent years we have seen more and more young people drinking more, especially women.

"Alcohol-related liver disease used to be only found in middle-aged and elderly people, but now evidence is mounting that more and more people in their 20s and 30s are being diagnosed with it.

"It is very depressing."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the figures were "deeply disturbing".

"There is no quick fix solution to the problem. We need a broad based public health approach, which addresses licensing laws and the underlying factors of peer pressure and social behaviour."

The Department of Health said it was taking action, pointing out the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy was published last year.

The paper put forward a range of measure to tackle binge drinking, including sensible drinking campaigns and provisions for GPs to give alcohol advice.

And a spokeswoman added: "The government is currently consulting with the drinks industry on the development of a social responsibility scheme.

"This scheme will encourage the responsible promotion and selling of alcohol."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Drinkers and doctors reflect on the new figures



SEE ALSO:
Opposition plan to halt drink law
11 Aug 05 |  UK Politics
Alcohol 'as harmful as smoking'
04 Feb 05 |  Health


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