(THE STAR) — The girls slumped in wheelchairs look barely conscious, their blond heads lolling above the plastic vomit bags tied like bibs around their necks.
It’s an hour to midnight on Friday, and the two girls, who look no older than 18, are being wheeled from an ambulance to a clinic set up discreetly in a dark alley in London’s Soho entertainment district.
They’re the first of many to be picked up on this night by the ambulance, known as a “booze bus,” aned carried to the clinic — both government services dedicated to keeping drunk people out of trouble, and out of emergency rooms.
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Binge drinking has reached crisis levels in Britain, health experts say, costing the cash-strapped National Health Service 2.7 billion pounds (US$4.4 billion) a year, including the cost of hospital admissions related to booze-fueled violence and longer-term health problems. Unlike all other major health threats, liver disease is on the rise in Britain, increasing by 25 per cent in the last decade and causing a record level of deaths, according to recent government figures.