North East people look to anti alcohol drugs in bid to beat booze problem

Medics say more people in North East are now seeking help to beat their booze addiction using tablets

Anthony Devlin/PA Wire A GP writing a prescription
A GP writing a prescription

Up to 50 prescriptions are being written every day for anti-alcohol drugs in a bid to help people in the North East combat their addiction.

New figures reveal there were 11,761 prescriptions written last year for three different drugs which aim to combat the region’s drink problem.

The North East has the second highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in England, with twice as many people in the region dying from drink-triggered causes than 20 years ago.

But health bosses say the latest figures demonstrate that more people than ever are now addressing their addiction, and seeking help for it.

Alice Wiseman, public health consultant for Gateshead Council, said: “These figures are very encouraging. We’ve known for a long time that there is a need to increase the use of this medication in order to help people tackle their alcohol problems.

“This rise in numbers show that more people are recognising they have a problem and are deciding to take positive steps towards recovery.

“Eradicating the stigma of seeking treatment is key to helping people access the support they need.

“Alcohol use has become such a norm in our community that people often find it hard to acknowledge there is a problem.”

In Gateshead alone, hospital admissions due to alcohol-related cancer and alcoholic liver diseases have increased by a staggering 50% in the past ten years, with an estimated 13,500 dependent drinkers in the town.

The number of prescriptions written for the three drugs in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and Cumbria rose by 12.7 per cent last year compared to the 10,433 prescriptions in 2013.

Ben Birchall/PA Wire Shelves full of antibiotics
Shelves full of antibiotics

Durham, Darlington and Tees saw a 11.5 per cent rise, from 6,060 to 6,759.

It means that across the two regions, 50 prescriptions for the drugs were written every day, on average.

The three drugs work in slightly different ways.

Acamprosate calcium and nalmefene work by reducing cravings for alcohol. Disufiram makes drinking more unpleasant by ensuring ‘hangover’-type symptoms are experienced as soon as alcohol is consumed.

The weaning of people from their addiction not only has individual health benefits but could also make a significant financial difference to the region.

Some 3,030 people in the North East claimed for one of several forms of disability benefit, citing alcohol misuse as the main reason last year.

In County Durham there were 530 claims while in Newcastle it was 460 - that represents one claimant in 32 in the city. The British average is one in 45.

Sunderland had 410 claimants - or one in every 41 who filled out the forms as of May last year. In Gateshead there were 300 claimants - one in every 35, according to data released under Freedom of Information laws earlier this year.

Nationally, the number of prescriptions for the three anti-alcohol drugs rose by 6.3 per cent to 185,251 in 2014.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “People who are dependent on alcohol should be getting treatment so it’s encouraging to see more people seeking the help and support they need to tackle their problems.

“In this country we have struggled to get people in treatment for alcohol addiction for many years. The target is for 15% of dependent drinkers to be in treatment so this increase in prescriptions is good news.

“As well as treating people for alcohol problems we also need a range of measures put in place to prevent them from becoming dependent in the first place. This requires a change in culture. We need to put an end to alcohol being sold at pocket money prices, available on every street corner and marketed in a way that recruits drinkers at a young age.”


Alcohol misuse is costing the North East economy £242million each year.

On Friday Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, backed calls from the Government to protect young people by increasing duty on spirits in the emergency Budget to help ease the financial burden on the region.

It comes as research, led by Alcohol Concern, reveals spirits, particularly vodkas, to be among the most popular drinks of choice for children accessing treatment for alcohol.

Implementing a rise in spirit duty of 4% above inflation would help relieve the financial strain on the NHS and help protect children, according to the agency.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, the North-east alcohol office
Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, the North-east alcohol office

The North East survey findings, which closely mirror national trends, found alcohol brands such as Smirnoff vodka, Fosters beer, Frosty Jack’s cider and generic vodka as the favoured products amongst the 12 to 20-year-olds surveyed in six of the region’s treatment centres.

The most commonly consumed brands in the North East were:

1. Fosters beer

2. Frosty Jack’s cider

3. Generic/ own brand vodka

4. Smirnoff vodka

5. Jack Daniel’s whisky

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “Alcohol industry advertising continues to reach the most vulnerable members of our society with products sold at pocket money prices and advertising which promotes drinking as a means to have fun. In the UK TV advertisements for alcohol are seen by children more often than adults.

“The alcohol industry benefited from significant tax cuts and the end of the alcohol duty escalator during the Coalition Government, a move which is estimated to cost the public purse more than £1.5bn over five years.

“These kinds of tax cuts put our children at risk. The Chancellor needs to ensure he protects the most vulnerable members of society by not bowing down to the alcohol industry and supporting targeted alcohol policies such as the spirits duty rise.

“Spirits are becoming increasingly popular amongst this age group and a rise in spirit duty will make the strongest and most dangerous products that end up in the hands of our children less attractive to young people.”

There are more than 10,000 children and young people currently in treatment for alcohol as either a primary or secondary substance across the country.


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