Smoke, drink, drugs = 228,400 in hospital

About 228,400 hospital episodes each year are a result of Australians either smoking, drinking or taking illicit drugs, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The quantification of drug-caused mortality and morbidity in Australia, 1998 examines the contribution of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs to deaths and hospitalisations of Australians. It shows that in 1997-98, 142,500 hospital episodes were smoking-related, 71,400 were alcohol-related and 14,500 were a result of taking illicit drugs.

Well over half of the tobacco-related hospital episodes (74,379) occurred with Australians aged 65 years and over, though many of these are the result of smoking at a much earlier age because of the time lag between exposure to tobacco smoke and onset of disease. In contrast, the 15-34 year age group contributed 75% of hospitalisations involving illicit drugs.

In 1998, 19,000 Australians are estimated to have died from tobacco-related illnesses. An estimated 3,300 died from illnesses and injuries associated with excessive alcohol consumption, and 1,000 deaths were attributable to illicit drug use.

Co-author of the report, Chris Stevenson, said that high alcohol consumption contributed to 71,400 hospital episodes, but 28,400 episodes of hospitalisation were avoided among older people through moderate alcohol consumption.

'There is little evidence of a beneficial effect from moderate alcohol consumption at younger ages but there is evidence of an increase in the risk for road traffic accidents and some cancers, Mr Stevenson said.

'So, while drinking at ages 65 and over was associated with a decrease of 4,436 deaths, the overall effect of alcohol consumption at ages below 65 caused about 2,065 deaths-even when the effects of moderate consumption were included.'

Other findings in the report include:

  • Most alcohol-related deaths among men are due to alcoholism and alcoholic liver disease. Alcohol-related cancer is the next highest cause.
  • Most alcohol-related deaths in Australian women are from alcohol-related cancer. Breast cancer accounts for more than half of these deaths, while oesophageal and liver cancer account for 24% and 13% respectively.
  • Patterns of illicit drug-related deaths among men and women are similar. The largest proportion of these deaths is directly related to opiate dependence, abuse or poisoning (79% for men, 69% for women), followed by suicide (13% for both men and women).


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