Rugby fans' boozing spurs anti-binge call

A NEW study on the burden drunken rugby fans place on emergency medical services has prompted a call for an anti-binge drinking ad campaign.

Rugby matches in New Zealand have long been linked with spikes in alcohol-related disorder and injuries.

Wellington's annual IRB sevens tournament is particularly known for partying fans.

But the study, published in the Medical Journal yesterday, is the first in New Zealand to look specifically at the effect on ambulance treatment centres at major rugby events.

Otago University emergency medicine expert Dr Andrew Swain analysed patient data from the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the 2011 and 2012 sevens tournaments.

The study found alcohol was involved in 80 to 90 per cent of all incidents.

The study also found the treatment centres reduced the burden on hospital emergency departments, saving $70,000 at the last two events. Of the 121 patients seen at the treatment centres, 60 per cent would have needed to go to hospital emergency departments without the centres.

The findings also shed light on which rugby fans get into the most trouble. Half of the patients were New Zealanders, with an average age of 25. Just over half were women, and 30 per cent were students.

The research has prompted a call for an advertising campaign to target binge drinking.

In a Medical Journal editorial, Wellington Hospital emergency medical specialists Brad Peckler and Mai Nguyen said the relationship between sporting events and binge drinking was "very clear".

They said research showed anti-binge drinking campaigns succeeded when directed at specific audiences.

"Campaigns against drinking and driving, promoting safe driving practices, and violence against women are visible parts of our society ... Would a media campaign prior to the Sevens help change that culture?"

The editorial said the study's economic analysis only scratched the surface and the actual cost could be far greater.

"The savings described in this study are ... enough to justify a campaign to reduce binge drinking that could benefit the public good."

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