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Alcohol-fuelled violence on the rise: medical staff

Professor Drew Richardson treats victims of alcohol-related violence.

Professor Drew Richardson treats victims of alcohol-related violence. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Emergency specialists such as Drew Richardson see the aftermath of alcohol-fuelled violence all too often.

The Canberra Hospital's emergency department say they deal with the consequences of drunken assaults on a nightly basis.

His staff have been abused while trying to treat intoxicated patients, and are often required to separate friends and families of patients to prevent alcohol-related disputes re-igniting in the department.

He's treated young men who turn up with broken fists at 3am, who claim they were attacked while simply minding their own business.

''Apparently minding your own business at three o'clock in the morning is a very dangerous thing to do in Canberra,'' Professor Richardson said.

Anecdotally, Professor Richardson believes the problem has worsened in Canberra in his 15 years with the emergency department, coinciding with an increase in the total number of presentations.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday called for tougher measures to stop unprovoked street attacks, and increased pressure on state governments to introduce tougher laws and licensing restrictions to prevent alcohol-fuelled violence.

Mr Abbott, speaking mainly of violence in Sydney, condemned what he called a ''rise of the disturbed individual'', telling Macquarie Radio cowardly offenders should be treated with appropriate severity.

''This is a vicious, horrible change, and I think that the police, the courts, the judges, ought to absolutely throw the book at people who perpetrate this kind of gratuitous, unprovoked violence,'' he said.

His comments come at a critical time in the ACT, with the territory government reviewing the effectiveness of tough liquor reforms it introduced in 2010.

Those reforms failed to reduce alcohol-related assaults in Civic - the ACT's largest nightclub district - but have helped lead to a territory-wide decrease in all alcohol-related offences, including less serious crimes such as public urination.

Professor Richardson said the worst types of assaults, which leave victims dead or brain damaged, were relatively rare in the ACT, compared to other areas he had worked.

But he said alcohol-related violence was still a significant problem in the jurisdiction.

''We're talking on a nightly basis, but particularly Friday to Sunday nights, and of course more than a few patients turn up looking the worse for wear on Sunday morning, with broken bits and can't remember exactly how it happened,'' he said.

Recent data released by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine suggested that alcohol-related harm accounted for at least one in seven patients attending emergency departments across Australia, with some experiencing as many as one in three.

''We're upset because it's preventable injury, something that just didn't need to happen,'' Professor Richardson said.

''We also have the issue of drunk people threatening staff. Bullying is just not acceptable in the modern emergency department.

''Drunkenness must never be an excuse to treat carers inappropriately.''


  • "Alcohol-fuelled violence on the rise" heard it here first, The Canberra Times 14/01/2014

    Date and time
    January 14, 2014, 7:19AM
    • Clogging up the emergency department and abusing staff while those who are actually sick have to wait patiently. Just not on.

      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 8:26AM
      • We live in a culture which glorifies alcohol. Our elite sporting teams are sponsored by alcohol companies. A vast proportion of our society has been indoctrinated into believing you can't have a good time without being drunk. Some of the people I used to work with equated how much of a good time they'd had with how much they could remember. If they couldn't remember much they must have had a great night. Our drinking culture now has people starting younger than ever, reportedly thirteen or fourteen for many. When I was at school the biggest macho man was the guy who drank an entire case of beer at a party. Now it's drinking spirits and pre loading that's the problem. An article the other day revealed some shops where you could buy cheap wine for less than bottled water. We have a huge problem and it is getting worse. Absolutely nothing will be done about it as long as alcohol companies throw money at political parties. Look at the watering down of the gambling reforms because of the clubs lobby and the money they give to political parties. Yesterday there was a report on the huge success of plain packaging of cigarettes. The demise of smoking has been a real success story, similar success could be achieved with alcohol by changing the culture. We need an immediate ban on advertising. I refuse to go to Wallabies games these days. A few years ago I went to a game and was bombarded by the ground announcer with ads for their sponsor, a well known brand of rum. He even said why not stay behind after the game, wait until the crowds have gone and have another rum.

        Einstein Not
        Date and time
        January 14, 2014, 8:40AM
        • Stop the spirits and party mixer sugar fired drinks, drink beer.

          Date and time
          January 14, 2014, 8:40AM
          • Tougher penalties in the only answer. Make offenders accountable for their actions. A criminal record will impact on their future job prospects and travel outside Australia and will be a constant reminder that this behaviour is not acceptable. If you think this is too harsh then Bloody Behave yourself.

            Date and time
            January 14, 2014, 8:45AM
            • anecdotal: (of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

              So it could read...
              Not necessarily true or reliable, Professor Richardson believes the problem has worsened in Canberra in his 15 years with the emergency department.

              If you believe in what you are saying, then why say it is anecdotal?

              Just Saying
              Date and time
              January 14, 2014, 8:59AM
              • He said anecdotally as he is not quoting specific statistics. If he hadn't said "anecdotally" he'd get people then criticising him for not citing relevant stats.

                Date and time
                January 14, 2014, 11:03AM
            • It's not the grog. It's the bloody stuff they're taking with it, eg ''ice''.

              Yalara (Uluru)
              Date and time
              January 14, 2014, 12:30PM
              • Include the hidden steroid epidemic and you have a recipe for disaster.

                Date and time
                January 14, 2014, 12:50PM
                Comments are now closed

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