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Dundee alcohol deaths rise as Covid pandemic blamed for crisis

Dundee's alcohol deaths have increased.

Alcohol deaths in Dundee have reached their highest total in more than five years, prompting concerns the Covid pandemic left heavy drinkers more vulnerable.

Official figures show 46 people lost their lives in the city last year, the highest total recorded since 2015.

Dundee has consistently had one of the worst records for drinking deaths over the five years, ranking fifth in Scotland between 2017 and 2021.

Nationwide, the figures from National Records of Scotland showed alcohol deaths across the country were at their highest level in 13 years, reflected in a 5% increase in 2021.

Kathryn Baker, chief executive of the Tayside Council on Alcohol, warned some Dundee residents likely turned to drink as a “coping mechanism” due to the pandemic.

Kathryn Baker.
Kathryn Baker.

She told The Courier: “I think the increase in alcohol-related deaths does not come as any surprise.

“We do need to consider that within the context of the two years of stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic.”

She called alcohol the “go-to” drug for stress, anxiety, celebration and commiseration.

“It’s a coping mechanism, and people have needed those coping mechanisms to deal with some of the challenges that they’ve faced. It’s disappointing, but not surprising,” she said.

Ms Baker claimed last month that progress in tackling alcohol was being overshadowed by a drugs crisis locally.

‘Caught napping’

“I think in some ways we’ve been caught napping a bit,” she said.

Ms Baker said: “The report shows us that if you look at the health inequalities in relation to alcohol-related deaths, the gap was closing, albeit slowly, and what we’ve seen is that gap widening again.

“That’s really concerning. The cost of living crisis is absolutely going to contribute to that.”

Julie Ramsay, from National Records of Scotland, said health inequalities were 5.6 times as likely in the most deprived areas compared with least deprived.

Is minimum unit pricing working?

Minimum unit pricing was introduced by the SNP in 2018 as a key policy aimed at reducing alcohol abuse.

A study published last month warned the measure was not stopping men in deprived areas from drinking too often.

Public health minister Maree Todd defended the legislation and said it had helped reduce alcohol sales to the lowest level on record.

She said: “No one should die as a result of alcohol consumption, and my thoughts go out to all family and loved ones affected.

Maree Todd.
Maree Todd.

“These figures show that Scotland continues to have a problematic relationship with alcohol, and we are determined to do all we can to address that.

“The introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing has helped reduce alcohol sales to their lowest on record, but we are determined to do even more to tackle the scale of alcohol-specific deaths.”

Ms Baker also backed the health measure, and claimed there is an argument for increasing the minimum unit price.

She said: “There have been some reports that have suggested minimum unit pricing hasn’t achieved what it set out to do.

“In a way I think that’s a bit unfair. Again we need to see things in the context of really unprecedented times.

“There is a suggestion that the level of the unit price is too low, so there’s an argument we should increase that to 65p. Absolutely that is part of the solution.”

Dundee licensing chief not ruling out refreshed policy to curb booze sales

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