FRONTLINE workers across the North-East have joined forces to say they have had enough of the problems caused by alcohol misuse.

Police officers, nurses, paramedics and firefighters are backing the 'I have a drink problem' campaign, launched today by Balance, the North East alcohol office.

They have been joined by landlords, bar staff, taxi drivers and others in professions who experience the darker side of drink.

It aims to highlight the problems caused by alcohol sold at pocket money prices which are faced by frontline staff on a regular basis and encourage members of the public to support the Government's intention to tackle the sale of cheap drink.

It is being launched on the same day that Home Office officials visit the region to discuss proposals set out in a consultation on the way alcohol is priced and sold.

As part of the campaign, Balance staff will be hitting towns and cities across the region to encourage members of the public to show their support for frontline staff by completing a postcard setting out their views on alcohol price and legislation.

PC Anne-Marie Gray from Bishop Auckland is backing the campaign. She said: "Alcohol misuse is a major cause of crime. If we're called out to an incident of domestic abuse, more often that not, drink is involved."

During her 11 year career, PC Gray has found herself in many tough situations where alcohol is a factor. She's seen husbands put their wives in hospital and has undergone tests after blood was spat on her by a drunk.

"Some see you as fair game, pull your hair or stab you with a stiletto. I've even been punched in the face."

Deb Smith, alcohol liaison nurse at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: "I was nursing a young woman who'd been drinking when she began lashing out. She grabbed one of my colleagues by the hair, pinned her to the ground and wouldn't let her go. Nurses have definitely had enough of this kind of behaviour."

Problems caused by alcohol misuse are stretching the region's essential services to the limit: Nearly half of all violent crime in the North-East is alcohol-related.

A large contributory factor is that alcohol is 70% more affordable today, in relative terms, than it was in 1980.

Studies show that linking the price of alcohol to its strength and introducing a minimum price of 50p per unit would: *Reduce drinking amongst young and heavy drinkers without impacting significantly on pub prices.

*Reduce crimes in England by nearly 46,000 a year.

*Reduce hospital admissions in England by almost 100,000 a year.

*Save our country an estimated £1billion every year.

Dave Hogg, crime and disorder programmes manager at Balance, said: "Alcohol misuse is having a devastating effect on many of our communities and families and the lives of professional frontline staff in the North East.

"While we welcome measures that address the problems caused by cheap alcohol, simply banning below cost sales will not reduce consumption amongst heavy and young drinkers. Increasing tax or duty would penalise both moderate drinkers and community pubs. Introducing a minimum price would be fairer, more targeted and easier to implement.

"Alcohol is too available in too many places at too many hours of the day. Local communities need the powers to turn back the tide. To support our frontline staff log onto