The shocking toll of alcohol abuse in West Lothian has been laid bare after new figures show booze-related deaths are at a 40-year high.
And the newly-released statistics reveal that the number of people who died as a result of alcohol abuse has risen by over 60 per cent in the last 12 months.
Last year, 45 alcohol-specific deaths were recorded in the county, compared to 28 the year before.
In 2018, 35 people died, 38 alcohol-related deaths were recorded in 2017 and in 2016 there were 26 deaths.
In 1979, when health experts began collating figures, only four alcohol-related deaths were recorded in West Lothian.
Statistics covering the NHS Lothian area as a whole reveal 184 people died in the last 12 months – an increase of nearly 40 per cent.
This compares to 132 in 2019, 165 in 2018 and 2017, 141 in 2016 and 125 in 2015.
The trend is repeated across the country, where alcohol-related deaths in Scotland reached the highest level for 12 years, according to National Records of Scotland (NRS) figures.
Some 1190 Scots passed away in 2020 due to alcohol-specific deaths.
Pete Whitehouse, director of statistical services at the NRS, said: “NRS figures show a marked increase in the number of deaths due to alcohol, reversing the fall seen in 2019.
“Monthly analysis shows that alcohol-specific deaths were higher than average in 10 months of 2020. From August to November deaths were similar to or substantially higher than the highest numbers seen during these months over the last five years.
“Suicide deaths decreased slightly on the 2019 level. Monthly figures show that suicide deaths between June and September of 2020 were consistently above the highest numbers seen in these months over the last five years.
“These statistics provide important analysis of deaths related to alcohol, from suicide and from other causes during the first nine months of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Scottish Government’s public health minister, Maree Todd, said lockdown had led to people who were already drinking heavily consuming even more alcohol.
She said: “Although alcohol consumption in Scotland dropped in 2020, evidence from various surveys has shown those who were drinking heavily before the pandemic were more likely to increase their drinking during lockdown, thereby increasing their risk of harm.”
Conservative Lothians MSP Miles Briggs said immediate action was needed.
He said: “We urgently need to see the focus switch towards sustainable recovery and long-term rehabilitation, to support those who are dealing with addiction.” Dona Milne, director of public health, NHS Lothian, said that all alcohol-related deaths are a tragedy as they are ultimately preventable.
She continued: “There are resources to help people who feel they are drinking excessively.
“The Health and Social Care Partnerships, along with partner agencies, run several initiatives to help people tackle their alcohol use, such as alcohol brief interventions, tailored advice and support, counselling, detoxification and rehabilitation.
“Information on how to access these services in West Lothian can be found at West Lothian ADP – Health & Social Care Partnership (westlothianhscp.org.uk)
“Whilst these interventions are useful, we also need to recognise that people’s life circumstances impact on their alcohol use, so we need to take a public health approach that recognises and addresses these circumstances.
“We also know that most alcohol is bought to drink at home, which has sadly been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”
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