Irish Examiner – Alcohol a factor in poisoning deaths

More than one-third of people who died of alcohol-related liver disease were below 34 years of age, new figures reveal.

Statistics published by the Health Research Board showed that between 2004 and 2008 there were 672 alcohol-related poisoning deaths recorded and of those two thirds were men and the majority were aged less than 50 years. Half of the deaths were in the 40 to 54 year age group.

The report, the first of its kind in Ireland, found that alcohol was the drug more frequently implicated in poisoning deaths in Ireland, with future research to equate the “social cost” of these fatalities on families and society.

The number of non-poisoning deaths in people who were alcohol dependent also increased, from 508 in 2004 to 799 in 2008.

Remarkably, of those who died through alcoholic liver disease, almost 37% were aged between 25 and 34 years of age, while 31% were aged between 45 and 54 years.

HRB senior researcher Dr Suzi Lyons said many of these people were “still in their prime” when they died.

Alcoholic liver disease made up one-in-six of the 4,332 alcohol-related deaths in the research period.

Alcohol Action Ireland Director Fiona Ryan said: “These figures are alarming: alcoholic liver disease is an early warning sign of overall levels of alcohol problems in a population.

“The fact that the disease is being reported in people at such a young age points to serious alcohol problems occurring even earlier in a person’s life. We know that age of first drinking has dropped from 16 to 14 over a 10-year period.”

She said the figures should “generate a sense of crisis” and recommended swift action, including minimum pricing, reduced availability, reduced marketing and advertising of alcohol.

The HRB report concludes that: “There is probable evidence that alcohol policies that set a minimum price per gram of alcohol, impose restrictions on the sale of alcohol to intoxicated drinkers and children (under 18 years) and/or impose restrictions on the sale of alcohol or alcohol-brand advertising may reduce alcohol related harm.”

It quoted research from the World Health Organisation stating that policies such as increased taxes on alcohol or restricted availability can reduce alcohol-related harm.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said it would continue to engage with the Government on the issues raised in the report.

Source: Irish Examiner – 13/07/11
Journalist: Noel Baker