Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, February 22 2007.
By Amy McQuire
THE health divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians has been highlighted again this month after research conducted by the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) found that an Indigenous Australian dies on average every 38 hours due to alcohol-related causes.
The research, published in the National Alcohol Indicators Project (NAIP) Bulletin 11, Trends in alcohol-attributable deaths among Indigenous Australians, 1998-2004, also found that 1,145 Indigenous Australians had died between 2000- 2004 both directly and indirectly due to alcohol.
Alcoholic liver cirrhosis topped the list as the number one alcohol-attributed death for Indigenous females with suicide cited as the main cause for Indigenous males.
NDRI also found that the ratio of deaths between Indigenous (4.85 deaths to 10,000) and non-Indigenous Australians (2.40 deaths to 10,000) of alcohol-attributed deaths was two to one.
NDRI Indigenous Australian Research Team Leader Professor Dennis Gray said the NDRI figures show Australia is still far off from closing the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health.
“If we are serious about addressing this disparity and reducing death rates among Indigenous Australians, we need to focus on the underlying social causes of that ill health,” Prof Gray said.
“For instance, suicide is the most frequent alcohol caused death among Indigenous men, which reflects the despair that many Indigenous people feel.”
Chief Executive Officer of the Alcohol Education Rehabilitation Foundation (AER) Daryl Smeaton said that the statistics are not surprising considering the alcohol related death rates amongst the whole of Australia.
“The figure did not surprise us given that somewhere between 3,600 and 4,000 Australians die each year directly as a result of alcohol,” Mr Smeaton said.
“That actually equates to one Australian dying every 2.5 hours… that includes the Indigenous death rate, which is well over-represented of course.
“Alcohol is by far our most dangerous drug when it’s abused… while tobacco still kills a lot more Australians than other drugs it’s generally only the individual that dies… but with alcohol, significant numbers of innocent people are affected.”
Mr Smeaton said that alcohol is not just an Indigenous issue, but also a problem Australia as a whole has to tackle, and the AER Foundation is starting by addressing Australia’s cultural ties to alcohol.
“I think alcohol is a problem for the whole of Australia and while Mr [Mal] Brough has certainly been loud about it (in relation to domestic and sexual violence in Indigenous communities), it also occurs right across the spectrum,” Mr Smeaton said.
“The fact that 87 percent of Australians drink shows that it’s part and parcel of just about everything we do.
“We drink to celebrate, we drink to commiserate and we drink in every occasion in between… we equate having a drink to having a good time.
“What my Foundation is trying to do, and we seem to be a lone voice crying in the wilderness with this, is we need to change the way we drink.
“There’s no point in saying that we shouldn’t drink…we need to change the way we drink so we get away from drinking to intoxication.”
• You can find out more about the AER Foundation’s goals by visiting their website, http://www.aerf.com.au.