A CAMPAIGN group featuring more than 30 charities and medical bodies has called on Humza Yousaf to urgently turn the tide on alcohol harm, with deaths at their highest since 2008.

The clan of medical practitioners, public health professionals and charities have written to the First Minister asking him to show strong leadership and priority setting to address the crisis.

They have called for increased and sustained investment in alcohol services and recovery support alongside renewed efforts to tackle the price, availability and marketing of booze.

Despite the positive effect of minimum unit pricing (MUP) – which was recently found to have saved 156 lives each year since it was introduced – Scotland has still seen a dramatic increase in alcohol deaths over the past few years.

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Experts believe this significant rise in loss of life has likely been caused by changing drinking habits during the pandemic, in particular among heavy drinkers, alongside reduced access to services.

Medical professionals are worried that if Yousaf doesn’t act now, Scotland could be turning back the clock 20 years to when we saw deaths rates soar, reaching record levels.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Alcohol is Scotland’s drug of choice. 

“It is addictive and carcinogenic. Yet because it is promoted as an everyday product, essential to having fun and relaxing, we are blinkered to the reality of the high levels of damage it causes.

“Before the pandemic almost one in 15 of all deaths in Scotland were caused by alcohol. Unless urgent action is taken now then we could be sleep-walking our way back to the record levels of deaths we saw in the early 2000s.

“It’s 16 months since the Scottish Government rightly recognised there is a ‘public health emergency’ on alcohol, but there has been no plan to address it. This is unacceptable.

“The First Minister and his new team must act urgently to improve access to treatment and support and deliver on prevention.”

Douglas has insisted MUP must be uprated and meaningful marketing restrictions must be brought in to help make drink seem less normal.

The total societal costs of alcohol in Scotland have been estimated at between £5 billion to £10bn a year, including a £1.2bn cost to the economy.  

Despite this, the group says there has been little political attention on the increase in deaths and a lack of a proportionate response from Scottish Government.

Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, chair of expert alcohol medical group Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, added: “Our new First Minister and new Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy must now step up to the plate.

“Instead of warm words recognising the public health emergency with alcohol harms in Scotland, we now need to see action. Clinicians see the impact of alcohol on patients day-in, day-out and rightly are calling the Scottish Government out on this and are demanding urgent action.”

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Dr Catriona Morton, GP and representative of the Royal College of GPs, also said: “Alcohol-related harms are at crisis level in Scotland. Each week 700 people are hospitalised and 24 die as a result of alcohol, and the numbers of people whose lives are dominated by alcohol-related suffering is even greater.

“The everyday experience of many GPs is that patients are often unaware of the breadth or severity of the impact alcohol has upon their health. The normalisation of drinking, including widespread advertising, presents a significant barrier to reducing consumption on either an individual or societal basis.

“Action is desperately needed to address the cause and effects of adverse alcohol consumption in Scotland.”