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CANBERRA, Australia (September 24, 1997 - PACNEWS)---The Australian government is being asked to tighten controls on the importation of the traditional Pacific drink, kava, into areas of northern Australia.

Health officials are especially concerned at the increased level of kava trade among Aboriginal communities in the northern region of Arnhem Land.

Kava, imported from Fiji and Tonga, is being used as a substitute for alcohol in some Aboriginal communities, and in some cases is being drunk with alcohol. Community leaders say some families are spending all their money on kava and are left without sufficient money to buy food.

Reports from the communities indicate that misuse of the drink has contributed to serious health problems, including heart disease.

Local political leaders say some communities are importing up to 400 kilograms of kava a week, and that consumption is out of control.

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