Ambos shock at drunken kids

EXCLUSIVE Cathy O'Leary Medical Editor
Kept busy: Ambulance officers. Picture: Ben Crabtree/The West Australian

Ambulances are being called out to 35 drunk children and teenagers a month in WA, in what experts says is a worsening trend in underage binge drinking.

The latest St John Ambulance figures for alcohol intoxication call-outs show ambulances treated 4401 people in the last financial year, up more than 10 per cent on the previous year.

Of these, 397 were aged 13 to 18 and another 15 aged under 12. Three-quarters of the children and teenagers had to be taken to hospital for medical treatment.

Last month, 315 people were treated for intoxication, 21 of them were teenagers.

The numbers have been steadily increasing in the past few years and St John's metropolitan ambulance general manager James Sherriff said it was a disturbing trend.

"We obviously want people to call in as early as possible when these cases occur, but we're really amazed and disappointed at the increase that has occurred, particularly in the young age groups," he said. "When I look at the figures, I'm gob-smacked."

Mr Sherriff said the statistics did not include other alcohol and drug-related call-outs such as trauma and motor vehicle accidents, so were only the tip of the iceberg.

"And the worst thing is that this type of behaviour is avoidable," he said. "This trend is really concerning because it's increasing year on year, especially in the younger age group where it probably has the most impact and is occurring because of peer pressure."

McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth director Mike Daube said the figures should be disturbing to anyone concerned about children's wellbeing.

"There must be concern about parental responsibility and these data should also encourage the State Government to follow its own Liquor Control Act review's recommendations and legislate on secondary supply and strengthen police powers on alcohol sales to minors," he said.

Australian Medical Association WA president Michael Gannon said the problem was getting worse.

"It's hugely concerning that young people are getting so drunk they have to be sent off to hospital and for our hospital staff and St John Ambulance who sometimes have to face significant risks when dealing with some intoxicated patients," he said.

"Emergency departments shouldn't be drying-out centres."