Drinking costs global economy billions: OECD

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is urging  governments around the world to combat heavy drinking, but has yet to recognise the role that the alcohol industry can play.

The global alcohol industry is estimated to be worth US$1 trillion in 2014, alcohol-related problems are cascading into “new dimensions” that costs the global economy billions of dollars.

The OECD report, ‘Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use: Economics and Public Health Policy’ says that in addition to major public health threats it is also contributing significantly to crime and accidents.

The cost of crime and traffic accidents related to alcohol use for the European Union was on average €33bn ($36bn) in 2003 and the cost related to traffic accidents caused by alcohol abuse was €10bn ($11bn) in the same year.

Although overall alcohol consumption by adults in OECD countries has fallen slightly over the past two decades, it has particularly risen in Finland, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Poland and Sweden.

Consumption has also risen substantially in the Russian Federation, Brazil, India and China.

The OECD has identified that educated women and less educated men are the groups most prone to heavy drinking.

Launching the report in Paris in May, OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría said that there is “clear evidence that even expensive alcohol abuse prevention policies are cost-effective in the long run and underlines the need for urgent action by governments.”

While the OECD has called for greater government-led intervention, including tougher legislation, taxes and minimum pricing, and by primary care physicians, it acknowledges that broader approaches may also be needed.

The alcohol industry, however, remains largely persona non-grata despite its recognition and inclusion as a valid stakeholder in global efforts to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol by the World Health Organization.

The OECD has only stated that “initiatives promoted by the alcohol industry may also have a role to play but more independent evidence of their impact is needed.”