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Byron Shire
May 17, 2021

Disturbing alcohol emergency

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Dr Blake Eddington, BMed FACEM, Byron Bay

I would like to share my firsthand experience, working as an emergency specialist on the north coast, of alcohol-related violence.

Probably the worse part of my job and by far the most disturbing for me is telling the parents, partners and children that their loved one has died or will never wake up because of a traumatic brain injury. The wails of grieving families ring through the corridors of the emergency department too frequently. All too often the accident was preventable and the culprit was alcohol. As I write this I can still hear them; tears well in my eyes and in my gut I feel their pain, yet in no way to the wrenching extent they endure.

A common story is this: It starts off as a normal festive Friday or Saturday night, out with a group of friends, often having rapidly consumed more than 12 standard alcoholic drinks. Usually after midnight, something happens… a brawl in a venue or on the street over something trivial, a difference of opinion, a snide remark, glance, or just an unprovoked attack.

One punch is all it takes, and I have witnessed firsthand the one punch that has killed. If not a punch then a weapon, or falling off a balcony, or diving into a shallow pool, or the drunk driver and young passengers. These things would not happen if the people were not highly intoxicated. This means that these deaths and other horrific irreparable injuries are preventable.

Death is like a stone thrown in a pond. The ripple is immense, spreads in all directions, affects many people and continues for decades. Does anyone ever get over the death of someone they love? Is the anguish, frustration, blame or anger even greater when the cause was so meaningless and preventable?

In Australia around five young people die each week from preventable alcohol-related harms. That’s five too many. I don’t want it to be my child and I don’t want to have to tell you it’s yours.

It is simply just not a lack of individual patron responsibility. Neither is it the ‘drugs’. Political leaders, parents, the alcohol industry and the community must all collaborate to end this senseless carnage.

In Newcastle in 2008 late-trading licensed venues closed two hours earlier. This was the primary contributor to nearly a 40 per cent plummet in alcohol-related assaults that is estimated to have prevented well over 2,000 young people from being bashed on their streets at night.

Imagine if that occurred in Byron Bay where we have the third-highest number of alcohol-related assaults in NSW. Imagine if this occurred Australiawide. Could such a simple, cost-saving measure lead to five fewer grieving families per week?

These are the personal views of the author and do not reflect those of any organisation.

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  1. It is ludicrous for politicians and publicans to cry “Nanny State” every time people wish to protect drinkers. Having pubs open all hours of the day and night simply encourages a greater number of heavier drinkers. The state is there to protect its people and it has been shown in Newcastle that simply by shortening the hours, drinking crime has also been lessened. Many young people drink heavily at home before they go out, as drinking out is expensive, so this means only a couple more drinks while out and they are drunk. Too many people are in mourning for the loss of their children, and/or having children no longer able to walk or speak as a result of being attacked by a drunken “friend” or acquaintance. The time has come to stop carrying on about freedoms and realise that protecting people from themselves is sometimes what the state has to do. Shorten drinking time and fewer people will die or be seriously injured as a result of alcohol abuse.


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