The alcohol epidemic has become a "giant disaster for our society" and alcohol-related harm is now the number one public health issue in Canberra's emergency departments, a leading specialist says.
Surgeons and emergency department doctors have thrown their support behind the ACT government's proposal to stop licensed venues serving alcohol after 3am as new data reveals the growing burden alcohol is having on the territory.
The number of ambulances called to licensed venues in Canberra each month have nearly doubled compared to five years ago while nearly one in eight emergency department presentations on Australia Day was alcohol related.
Australasian College of Emergency Medicine (ACEM) data from three snapshot surveys shows alcohol-related presentations appear to be on the rise.
Royal Australasian College of Surgeons ACT trauma chair Dr Ailene Fitzgerald said the tragedy of alcohol-related harm was that it was preventable.
"It's frustrating because a lot of the burden placed on the emergency departments is preventable and it's particularly upsetting when we see young people, and it's predominantly young people, involved in major trauma," she said.
"One of the worst things I will ever have to do in my job is to tell a young person's parents that their child has been seriously injured or killed because they've had too much alcohol."
ACEM fellow and senior staff specialist at the Canberra Hospital emergency department, Dr Michael Hall, said the time had come to say "enough is enough" and for something to be done about alcohol.
He said about one in 10 people were admitted to the ED for alcohol-related reasons and alcohol caused "probably at least 10 times the issue of all illicit drugs combined in emergency medicine.
"Alcohol related harm is our number one public health issues in our emergency departments," he said.
"The alcohol epidemic is a giant disaster for our society."
Dr Hall and Dr Fitzgerald said a reduction in trading hours was a sensible way to prevent alcohol-related harm.
About a third of assaults in Civic occur after 3am.
"There is a large body of evidence that indicates restricting the availability of alcohol will reduce harms in the ACT as shown in Sydney and Newcastle," Dr Fitzgerald said.
Dr Hall said anything that decreased the availability of alcohol had to be positive.
"From our point of view, it is those small hours of the day that we see the most tragic consequences of alcohol in the acute sense," he said.
"The combination of what we see and the ambulance data showing that we're getting increased episodes of violence or gross intoxication coming out of our licensed venues leads us to support a decrease in trading hours.
ACEM data shows 11 ambulances were called to licensed premises each month in the first quarter of this year, up from six a month five years ago.
About one in eight patients was in the ED on Australia Day because of alcohol, up from one in 10 patients at 2am on December 14, 2013 when the first survey was done.
A second survey at 2am on December 6, 2014, showed nearly one in five patients was there for alcohol-related reasons.
said alcohol also had a huge impact on ED staff with research showing 98 per cent had experienced verbal aggression from alcohol-affected patients while nine in 10 had experience physical aggression.
"That's an amazing figure for a place that is here for the community," he said.
"These are stressful jobs that are highly problematic and much of that stress comes from alcohol-related effects, patients are abusive and even just how sad it is to deal with family that's been involved in a car accident for example," he said.