By Michael McHugh
The number of alcohol-related deaths in Northern Ireland has hit the highest level on record.
A total of 303 were attributed to drink, almost 30% more than a decade ago and 70% greater than 2001, when recording began.
Nearly three-quarters of deaths were men and the largest number continued to occur among those aged between 45 and 54.
People living in the most deprived areas were four times more likely to die than the least deprived, 2017 data released on Wednesday by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) showed.
Alex Bunting, director of Addiction NI, said: "It is not something that has just happened.
"If they don't get on and look at health and education and some of the issues we face we will continue to see figures which grow."
He added: "It is a complete lack of strategy."
Alcohol-related deaths continue to account for less than 2% of the total registered each year and the health authorities have taken a range of steps to mitigate the harm.
A Health Department statement said: "The most recent alcohol-related death statistics are a stark reminder of the tragic impact alcohol misuse has on individuals, families and communities across Northern Ireland.
"This Department continues to lead on the implementation of the cross-Departmental strategy to prevent and reduce the harm related to substance misuse in Northern Ireland.
"There is a range of services in place that can help and support anyone who thinks they might have an issue with alcohol and/or their families.
"Although we have seen reductions in alcohol misuse among young people, more people drinking within guidelines, and less binge drinking, it remains vital that people understand the harm that alcohol can cause, and that those who choose to consume alcohol, drink within the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk guidelines."
Mr Bunting said those aged over 50 were drinking more than ever before.
"By that stage someone dependant on alcohol has developed a lot of health-related issues and it has a great impact on their lives."
During the conflict a lot of people coped using alcohol, he observed, adding: "Alcohol is a very engrained culture.
"We have developed a binge culture, drinking heavily at weekends."
He said it had become part of daily shopping, like bread and milk, due to supermarkets stocking drink.
More women have also been over-indulging in recent times.
SDLP Belfast councillor Paul McCusker said: "More must be done to tackle the systemic reasons why people turn to alcohol, be it trauma, aspirational poverty, mental health issues and so on.
"It is unacceptable that in 2019, more and more people are dying from alcohol related deaths in a time when the risks of alcohol have never been so well evidenced."
Services available can be accessed at: http://services.drugsandalcoholni.info/