Binge drinking reaches crisis levels in UK
By Sylvia Hui, AP
May 15, 2012, 12:13 am TWN
LONDON--The girls slumped in wheelchairs look barely conscious, their blond heads lolling above the plastic vomit bags tied like bibs around their necks.
It's an hour to midnight on Friday, and the two girls, who look no older than 18, are being wheeled from an ambulance to a clinic set up discreetly in a dark alley in London's Soho entertainment district.
They're the first of many to be picked up on this night by the ambulance, known as a "booze bus," and carried to the clinic — both government services dedicated to keeping drunk people out of trouble, and out of emergency rooms.
Binge drinking has reached crisis levels in Britain, health experts say, costing the cash-strapped National Health Service 2.7 billion pounds (US$4.4 billion) a year, including the cost of hospital admissions related to booze-fueled violence and longer-term health problems. Unlike all other major health threats, liver disease is on the rise in Britain, increasing by 25 percent in the last decade and causing a record level of deaths, according to recent government figures.
Doctors believe rising obesity is combining with heavy drinking to fuel the spike in liver disease, which is hitting more young people than ever.
"Undoubtedly professionals are seeing more (patients) in their late-20s to mid-30s, which would have been unusual 20 years ago," said Chris Day, a liver disease specialist at Newcastle University.
On the streets of Soho, most people are too busy drinking to notice passed-out party-goers. The streets, lined with pubs and night clubs, are just beginning to get rowdy: Men chasing each other and shrieking like teenagers; women stumbling and falling over in their short skirts and high heels. Soon the sidewalks are littered with empty beer bottles and reeking puddles.