The ten-year National Drug Strategy was released last month, listing methamphetamine as its top priority.
But the president of the Australian Medical Association, Michael Gannon, said despite the so-called ice epidemic, alcohol abuse was a more pervasive and widespread problem.
“We see so much carnage from ice use and yet it pales into insignificance with the problems caused by legal drugs like alcohol by a much larger group of Australians everyday,” Dr Gannon said.
Alcohol abuse costs Australian taxpayers an estimated $36 billion annually, and is linked to 5,000 deaths and more than 150,000 hospitalisations each year.
Dr Gannon said the issue needs to be given the same amount of attention as ice.
“We quite simply need to do better when it comes to problem drinking,” he said.
“Alcohol is more pervasive simply because so many more people drink, which means so many more people problem drink.
“Australia has a cultural problem with alcohol, and tens of thousands of Australians drink unsafely everyday.”
But Dr Gannon said drug issues were not black and white and Government should not be taking an ‘either-or’ approach to its priorities.
“It’s not as if we need to have an Olympic medal race to decide what’s the biggest problem out of alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamine and other drugs,” he said.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Is alcohol more dangerous than ice?
Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, said both drugs were dangerous in different ways.
“If you’re counting tombstones, it’s alcohol. If you’re counting young lives, it’s ice,” Dr Wodak said.
“If it’s your brother or sister or son, daughter, mum, dad or someone you love who has got a drug problem, you don’t really care which drug it is — you want them to survive.”
Dr Wodak also said the National Drug Strategy was misguided, calling on the federal and state governments to better resource the fight to curb alcohol abuse.
“The reason we don’t intervene more effectively for alcohol is the drinks industry — all powerful, very well connected politically, it stops politicians from intervening effectively,” he said.
Dr Wodak has seen the damaging effects of alcohol first hand, having worked in hospitals across the country for decades.
But he said many Australians either do not know, or do not want to know how big the issue is.
“We unfortunately have become almost immune, we don’t see the alcohol problem,” Dr Wodak said.
“But if you go to a hospital on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday night in the late evening or early morning, it just rolls in like it’s an assembly line.”
A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said the National Drug Strategy identified a range of priority substances, including alcohol.