New hope for relief from boozers

One in five patients who turn up in New Zealand hospital emergency departments in the small hours of the morning are there because of booze, a study has found.

On the eve of a major liquor law change, the "snapshot" survey by the Australasian College for Emergency Services found 18 per cent of emergency patients were "there as a result of the harmful use of alcohol".

The survey covered 14 emergency departments, with the "snapshot" taken at 2am last Saturday.

Emergency staff were fed-up with having to deal with drunkenness, principal investigator Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton said.

"Emergency physicians are sick and tired of dealing with the 'bloody idiots' who drink alcohol to excess and end up in the ED. If you work in an ED with one in five patients affected by alcohol, it's more like a pub than a hospital," she said. "This is intolerable for staff and unfair on other patients."

The answer, though, could be the new Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, which came into force at midnight, bringing with it tough measures intended to reduce alcohol harm.

Under the new rules, drunk people are not allowed to be in bars, and staff are forbidden to serve anyone that is intoxicated. Bars and bar owners can be fined up to $5000.

The act defines "intoxication" as when two or more of the following are evident: appearance is affected, behaviour is impaired, co-ordination is impaired, speech is impaired.

To help bar staff, police teamed up with Hospitality New Zealand, Health Promotion Agency and the New Zealand Institute of Licensing Inspectors to create a pocket sized colour-co-ordinated card which can be used to assess drunkenness.

"Sober" patrons will have coherent, clear speech, normal tone and volume and "may be talkative".

If a person is "influenced", staff should intervene. According to the card, a person under the influence will be "overly talkative, opinionated and interrupts, may stumble over words" and occasionally stagger.

Once a patron hits the "intoxicated" level, it's time to deny and remove them.

Those people will be slurring, have difficulty forming words, be loud and repetitive, lose their train of thought and be "nonsensical" or unintelligible.

They'll spill drinks, stumble, trip, weave, walk into objects and be unable to stand or sit straight. Physically, they will have bloodshot or glazed eyes, won't be able to focus, will look tired or fall asleep and be "dishevelled".

- Anna Leask of the NZ Herald

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