Alcohol harm reduction need

It should not be any surprise alcohol causes more than 20 times more harm than methamphetamine in New Zealand.

Perhaps we are more shocked by a meth-fuelled rampage than an alcohol one because the latter is so common it has become like background noise.

Documents released to RNZ showed police estimate the harm from alcohol to be about $7.8 billion a year, compared with $1.8b for illegal drugs.

In a presentation to the Southern Police District Leadership team, the social cost from amphetamines was listed as $365 million, ‘‘so alcohol causes 21.5 times the harm of meth’’.

But while the alcohol harm is well known, and has been for decades, there is little police resource put into alcohol harm reduction.

RNZ discovered of New Zealand’s 10,000 police officers, a mere 84 are Alcohol Harm Prevention Officers (AHPO) and only 37 are full-time, with the others having to do the prevention work alongside their other duties.

When asked how much it had spent on alcohol harm prevention in the past two years, the police could only identify $66,155 in spending, mostly on attending conferences.

In our area, the Coastal Otago region, the single AHPO is expected to cope with an annual workload of 1210 liquor licensing applications, all of which had to be responded to within 15 days.

It is hard to see how this person would have much time for another part of the job which is supposed to be driving alcohol harm reducing initiatives in communities, working with schools, universities and the alcohol industry.

Police commissioner Andrew Coster caused a minor stir when he said measures which could make a difference were restricting off-licence availability and introducing minimum pricing.

As he says it is not his job to advocate, but when he is asked what would make a difference, he says what he knows from the research.

As he also said, these ideas are not new. Nor is he the only person expressing them.

But while it may be easy to criticise the police for not devoting more attention to alcohol harm reduction, the bigger question is whether our politicians will ever be prepared to take more decisive action.

Timidity in the face of such high ongoing cost is hard to justify.



The Walking Tree.
The Walking Tree.
Soggy shoes can’t compete with high heels

When your feet are hidden below water, it is hard to seem as sexy as someone flouncing about in high heels.

That’s the way the feisty crack willow That Wanaka Tree might be feeling now the news is out it came last among the six finalists in 2024’s Tree of the Year.

The winner was The Walking Tree, a northern rata which looks as if it is striding across a paddock in high heels near a cemetery at Karamea.

Another South Island spectacle which made the final six was The Hewlings Totara, believed to have been planted in Geraldine’s main street in 1864 at the house of Samuel Hewlings and Nga Hei (Ngapuhi) to celebrate the birth of their daughter Catherine. The dwelling burned down in 1911 but the totara survived, now standing between two commercial buildings.

Despite coming last, Wanaka can afford to be magnanimous about not taking out the win in the third year of this contest.

It already has the Bird of the Century, the puteketeke Australasian crested grebe, living on the Lake.

The New Zealand Arboricultural Association/NZ Arb tree contest has not attracted quite the same international interest as that bird competition last year. It captured the imagination of British American-based television comedian Jon Oliver who shamelessly campaigned for the puteketeke.

Maybe someone could mention the tree competition to Mr Oliver for next year.

In the meantime, the competition is a fun way to honour the heritage of some fine trees and perhaps open our eyes to the importance and beauty of many others.