A major tragedy was prevented by healthcare workers who treated intoxicated young people at a concert in Belfast, Stormont health minister Edwin Poots said.
More than 100 people were attended by medics, in and around the Odyssey Arena, where Dutch DJ Hardwell was playing to a crowd of 10,000. A total of 18 were taken to hospital, but none was in a serious condition.
A major incident was declared by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and in two of the city’s hospitals, where extra staff were called in to help.
Mr Poots said: “I believe that the response to (the) incident on 6 February at the Odyssey Arena - by the Ambulance Service, the Belfast (Health) Trust, and the volunteers on the ground from SOS Bus and other agencies - may well have helped to prevent the incident becoming a major tragedy.”
Around 300 young people were refused entry to the premises, one of Northern Ireland’s major entertainment venues, because some were drunk and others too young to gain entry to the 16-and-over gig.
Around 40 required care from medics, ambulance crews and charity volunteers who set up an ad hoc treatment area outside. Inside the Odyssey, 68 concert goers needed medical assistance.
Mr Poots said alcohol was available at “pocket money prices” and added many young people turned up at the Odyssey pre-loaded with drink. Many treated were aged under 16.
The owner of the Odyssey is reviewing planning for the gig and Mr Poots has hosted a meeting of a range of public services. It included representatives from the Department of the Environment, the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Development, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, The Odyssey, Pubs of Ulster, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the Public Health Agency.
Mr Poots added: “We now know the majority of those were suffering from the effects of consuming too much alcohol, though there may have been some drug misuse in a few of the cases.”
He has commissioned research on the impact of the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol which could make it more expensive for children to obtain; the work is expected to be completed within the next few months.
Almost half of young people aged 11-16 have taken an alcoholic drink, official statistics showed. Some received it from friends, others from parents.
The proportion of young people who reported getting drunk had fallen to 23% in 2010, compared to 33% in 2003.
Alcohol misuse costs Northern Ireland services up to £900 million every year, with £250 million of that spent by the NHS.
In 2012, provisional figures show that 270 people died directly as a result of alcohol misuse - an increase of 28 (or 11%) for the figures in 2011. Overall the number of deaths has increased by roughly 30% since 2001.