RECORD OF INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Regulations 1996
I, Olivia McTaggart, Coroner, having investigated the death of
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
I find that the deceased died as a result of acute alcohol intoxication.
CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DEATH:
At approximately 11.00am February 2007, the deceased drove to the Hobart Airport to collect a friend. They stopped for lunch, however the deceased did not eat. A friend described the deceased as being happy and laughing at that time. They then drove to the deceased’s house and organised to have a barbeque that evening.
The friend went home and the deceased phoned her at around 4.00pm as had been previously arranged. The friend then went back to the deceased’s home at about 7.00pm. The deceased was already drinking full strength beer but appeared well and not visibly intoxicated at that stage. Present at the barbecue were 5 adults, and about 12 children.
The barbecue proceeded with the deceased drinking a substantial amount of full strength beer and eating a large meal. The deceased was in a good mood and was enjoying himself. The deceased left at 9.00pm to pick up his daughter and conveyed her to her mother’s house. It was stated that she could tell he had been drinking, however he appeared normal and fine. The deceased returned to the barbecue.
The friend left the barbecue for an hour and went to see a friend. Upon her return she saw that the deceased had changed from drinking beer to drinking vodka. He appeared intoxicated at this stage. He was slurring his words, swaying and not making much sense when he spoke. He was consuming drinks comprising about 3 parts vodka to 1 part orange juice.
The deceased sat in the same chair outside on the veranda consuming the vodka drinks. Over the course of about two hours he consumed most of the bottle of vodka. The friend and deceased’s sister, then took the bottle from him to prevent him drinking any more.
A short time later, about midnight, the deceased fell asleep in the same chair and began to snore. The adults left him there for an hour or so but then due to the mild weather conditions made up a bed outside on the veranda for him. They left him fully clothed with a pair of denim jeans and a fleece jumper on. He was laid on his side in a normal sleeping position. He was still breathing normally when they covered him with a blanket and left him to sleep.
The following morning the deceased’s brother, who had been present the previous evening, arrived at about 9.45am. He noticed that the deceased had not moved all morning. This was initially interptereted as a bad hangover. The friend sprayed the deceased with water to wake him up. She notified the deceased’s brother, who upon rolling him on to his back discovered he was cold and clammy, his skin colour had changed.
Police and Ambulance were immediately contacted and arrived within a short time. However he was deceased and unable to be revived.
A post mortem examination was conducted by the State Forensic Pathologist. Additionally, toxicology testing revealed a very high blood alcohol level of 0.333 grams per 100ml of blood.
The Pathologist determined, and I find, that the deceased died from acute alcohol intoxication.
I am satisfied that a full investigation has been conducted in relation to the death of the deceased and that there are no suspicious circumstances. I am also satisfied that the deceased did not intend his consumption of alcohol to have fatal consequences.
Whilst he was a generally healthy man, the evidence indicates that from late 2005 after separating from his wife he started to consume significant quantities of alcohol in regular drinking sessions.
The deceased engaged in an extremely heavy episode of drinking on the evening before his death. In addition to a large quantity of beer, he drank about three quarters of a bottle of vodka. The fact that the vodka was consumed over a relatively short period of time and in a concentrated form enhanced its harmful effects upon the body.
Alcohol is the most widely used recreational drug in Australia. Because it is so widely used and socially acceptable in our society, alcohol is often not considered to be a 'drug', nor is it considered to be particularly harmful. However, evidence from research shows that consumption of alcohol at harmful levels is increasing in Australia, particularly among young people. Much of this drinking takes the form of 'binge drinking' as in the case of the deceased’s heavy bout of alcohol consumption before his death.
At the higher concentrations involved in binge drinking episodes, there is loss of critical judgment, impaired coordination and balance, decrease in activity including sedation and sleep, nausea and vomiting, reduced responsiveness and decreased intellectual performance. Such impairment can lead to dangerous situations and risk taking behaviour. In the long term the harmful effects can include physical and psychological dependence upon alcohol, organ damage and emotional problems such as depression.
Very high concentrations such as that detected in the deceased’s body are potentially fatal. Death results from a combination of respiratory, cerebral and cardiac depression. Death can occur in those with concentrations lower than that of the deceased in persons with underlying cardiorespiratory disease, and those who have aspirated vomitus, or have obstructed airways due to sleep or unconsciouness.
To avoid the harmful effects of binge drinking, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends adherence to its alcohol guidelines in order to control intake of alcohol.
These guidelines have been well publicised and are available to view on the website www.nhmrc.gov.au. In general the safe drinking guidelines for the general population are as follows:
1.1 an average of no more than 4 standard drinks a day, and no more than 28 standard drinks over a week;
1.2 Not more than 6 standard drinks in any one day;
1.3 One or two alcohol-free days per week.
1.4 an average of no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 14 standard drinks over a week;
1.5 not more than 4 standard drinks in any one day;
1.6 one or two alcohol-free days per week.
The premature death of the deceased is a loss to his family and the community, and a sad reminder of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption in a single episode.
I conclude by expressing my condolences to the deceased’s family.
DATED: Monday, 10 September 2007 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.