THE number of alcohol-related deaths has stabilised in Lothian as cheap drink was blamed for a rise in fatalities across Scotland.
There were 149 deaths caused by alcohol in Lothian in 2014, compared to 152 the previous year, according to new figures from the National Records of Scotland (NRS).
Across Scotland around 20 people died from drink-related causes each week during 2014, with men accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the deaths.
Widespread availability of cheap, high-strength alcohol was at the heart of the problem, warned Dr Peter Bennie, chair of BMA Scotland, who expressed frustration at delays to the introduction of minimum unit pricing, which would set a floor price for a unit of alcohol.
The legislation was approved by the Scottish Parliament in 2012 but it has not yet been implemented due to a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association.
Dr Bennie said: “It is disappointing to see the rise in the number of alcohol-related deaths, but it does underline the importance of tackling the culture of heavy drinking in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government has made great strides to introduce a comprehensive alcohol strategy, but it will inevitably be less effective without measures to deal with the affordability of alcohol and the proliferation of cheap, high-strength alcohol that fuels heavy drinking and causes the greatest harm.”
The number of alcohol-related deaths was relatively stable during the 1980s – at roughly 80 per year – but it increased rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s.
The highest figure was recorded in 2003 when there were 221 deaths.
Jim Sherval, specialist in public health at NHS Lothian, welcomed the fall in deaths in Lothian in recent years.
He added: “However, alcohol remains an important cause of preventable, early death. It is important people recognise the dangers of alcohol and decrease their levels of drinking, and we would hope that this figure will continue to fall.
“NHS Lothian provides a range of services to help people tackle the reasons behind their alcohol use such as alcohol brief interventions, tailored advice and support, counselling, detoxification and rehabilitation.”
Barbara O’Donnell, acting chief executive at Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the figures were deeply concerning and more needed to be done for vulnerable people.
She said: “Alcohol is a leading cause of ill health, injury and preventable death. It is particularly sad that so many Scots die from alcohol-related diseases when they are only in their 40s and 50s.
“People are dying because alcohol is far too cheap, it’s available anytime, anywhere, and it’s heavily promoted.”
Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said there was no room for complacency on this issue and redoubled her calls for minimum unit pricing.
Ms Watt said: “There is no doubt that a key factor in alcohol-related harm is affordability. This is why minimum unit pricing is such an important part of our package of measures to tackle the availability of cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage.”
The figures were published in a report entitled Scotland’s Population 2014 – the Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends.