Alcohol abuse is costing Northern Ireland up to £884 million a year, according to shocking new figures.
This staggering cost is likely to inflame concerns about the devastating toll which alcohol abuse is taking on society.
The figures, which are based on prices from 2008/09, from the province’s health department reveal that the estimated cost of alcohol abuse to society is £679.8 million within a range of £500 and £884 million.
And Michael McGimpsey, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, has called for more action to be taken to solve the problem, and voiced his support for minimum pricing.
Mr McGimpsey said: “Alcohol misuse is one of the biggest public health issues facing Northern Ireland and its impact cannot be underestimated.
“This research shows that the cost to the Health Service alone may be as high as around £160 million each year with a further cost of £82 million to Social Services.”
He added: “Too many of our young people are putting their mental and physical health at risk because they are able to buy alcohol at a pocket money price. That is why I strongly support the calls in Scotland and elsewhere for a minimum price for alcohol.”
And Mr McGimpsey’s call was echoed by Dr Philip McGarry, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians in NI, who said: “We need to make alcohol less appealing, particularly to young people”.
He added: “Supermarkets use cheap booze to get customers through the door – minimum pricing would tackle that.
“The World Health Organisation says that increasing the price of alcohol is one of the most effective ways of curbing harmful drinking.”
Last month it was revealed that Theresa May, the new Home Secretary, had ordered a “complete review” of Britain’s disastrous 24-hour drinking laws.
The coalition Government has also pledged to “ban the sale of alcohol below cost price”.
And their programme for Government also committed the coalition to conducting a “review of alcohol taxation and pricing to ensure it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries.”