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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 15:00 GMT
Morgan warns on alcohol dangers
Drinking wine
The UK saw 8,758 alcohol-related deaths during 2006
First Minister Rhodri Morgan has compared the death toll from drink to the St Valentine's Day massacre during alcohol prohibition in the US.

He said while seven people were gunned down in the 1929 Chicago killings, 24 died every day in the UK from drink.

Mr Morgan said cutting fatalities from alcohol abuse was a leading priority for the Welsh Assembly Government.

He addressed the British-Irish Council in Dublin, where tackling substance misuse is top of the agenda.

The council was set up following the Northern Ireland peace agreement and brings together political leaders from the UK and the Irish Republic.

Mr Morgan was at the meeting with Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones and Social Justice Minister Brian Gibbons.

Rhodri Morgan
This six-lane motorway to the cemetery needs to stop... life depends on the liver and let us never forget it
First Minister Rhodri Morgan

The assembly government has this week launched a 10-year substance misuse strategy targeting those who drink to excess and do not believe they have a problem, as well as the young and binge drinkers.

Mr Morgan said: "The infamous St Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago happened 79 years ago today.

"It earned its notorious place in history because Al Capone's gang gunned down seven people at the height of the alcohol prohibition era".

'Silent victims'

"Yet 24 people die every day in the UK either directly or indirectly as a result of alcohol abuse - and apart from their nearest and dearest, these deaths go largely unnoticed.

"These people are the silent victims of our binge drinking culture, and this six-lane motorway to the cemetery needs to stop. Life depends on the liver and let us never forget it."

Al Capone leaves court in Chicago in 1931
Gangster Al Capone leaves court in Chicago in 1931

Dr Gibbons, who outlined the assembly government's strategy to the council, said: "One of the main aims will be to reduce the risk of harm to children and adults as a result of substance misuse by a parent, a partner or a child.

"There is a clear link between substance and alcohol misuse and domestic abuse, child poverty, homelessness, crime and anti-social behaviour."

The strategy is backed up with extra funding of 9.6m a year, taking the total annual funding to over 27m by 2010-11.

There is also an extra 3m to help deliver an alcohol action plan.

The social and economic costs of alcohol and drug abuse in Wales are estimated by the assembly government to be up to 2bn a year. They are believed to cost the Welsh NHS 85m annually.

There were 8,758 alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2006, the last year for which there are figures, according to the Office of National Statistics. That is more than double the level in 1991.

Death rates from alcohol in Wales are below the UK average. They are higher than in England, but less than half that in Scotland and lower than in Northern Ireland.

But Conservative social justice spokesman Mark Isherwood said: "The assembly government has had almost a decade to get to grips with drug and alcohol abuse.

"Binge drinking and drug abuse is a growing problem in Wales. The [UK] government's decision to relax licensing laws and downgrade the classification of cannabis has only made things worse."

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