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Alarm over ‘staggering’ spike in hospitalised underage drinkers

“More than 200 intoxicated teens presented to Brisbane EDs, more than 280 to Gold Coast EDs and almost 90 to Sunshine Coast EDs.

“The numbers are rising, and that’s not even considering the number of young people who suffer injuries while under the influence.

“Young people are more likely to behave dangerously and hurt themselves while drinking, by bingeing and taking more risks.”

The number of 12- to 17-year-olds showing up in Queensland emergency departments as a result of alcohol consumption has increased by 28 per cent since 2014.

Emergency department visits were only recorded as alcohol-related presentations if the primary diagnosis was alcohol intoxication, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, alcoholic hallucinations or alcoholic gastritis.

If a patient arrived with head injuries from a fall they sustained while under the influence, the primary diagnosis may have been trauma specific.

“The patients’ alcohol use may not be diagnosed in the emergency department, but instead identified from further investigations after the patient is admitted as an inpatient,” a Queensland Health spokeswoman said.

“In that case, alcohol use may not be recorded in the emergency department data.”

Mr Miles said emergency department presentations only scratched the surface of teen drinking.

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Data from Cancer Council Queensland’s 2017 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug survey showed about 175,000 high school students in Queensland had consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months.

“The legal drinking age in Australia is 18, but we know the average age a young person first tries an alcoholic drink is actually around 16,” Mr Miles said.

“Our data shows 55 per cent of 14- to 15-year-olds have had a drink in the past 12 months, compared to 78 per cent of 16- to 17-year-olds.”

Mr Miles said poor decision making was not the only reason people should wait until they turned 18 to have a drink.

“Young brains continue to grow up until the age of 25, and drinking alcohol while your brain is developing might cause irreparable damage,” he said.

The rise in emergency department visits comes despite data showing the rate of men aged between 18 and 29 who consumed alcohol at risky levels had decreased by 31 per cent since 2010.

The Department of Education and Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority have developed an education program for Queensland schools which aims to develop greater awareness of the impacts of alcohol and drug use.

Felicity Caldwell is state political reporter at the Brisbane Times

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