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Alcohol and death certificates

DEATHS in Donegal where alcohol was mentioned on the death certificate between 2007 and 2009 amounted to 55, according to figures provided by the Central Statistics office this week.
A mention of alcohol on a death certificate does not mean that it was a contributing factor to the cause of death in all cases.
The total number of deaths country-wide where alcohol is mentioned in that three year period is 1,895.
The breakdown for Donegal in the period is; – 13 in 2007, 18 in 2008 and 24 in 2009.
Chairwoman of the Coroners Society, Isobel O’Dea, said anecdotally there had been a rise in the number of cases coming before coroners where alcohol had played a significant role, but she stressed that just because alcohol is mentioned on a death certificate did not mean it played a direct or contributory role in the death.
Ms O’Dea, who is the Clare County Coroner, said it was likely alcohol would only warrant a mention on a death certificate if the amount found in toxicology reports was a minimum of 100mg, which is higher than the current drink- driving limit.
However, she said there were “no guidelines” as to how individual coroners dealt with the presence of alcohol in a deceased person and, in many cases, there was no way of knowing what role, if any, it had played in that person’s death.
According to Kieran O’Shea, Executive Officer at the Vital Statistics Section of the CSO, not all deaths where alcohol is mentioned have been the subject of inquests as alcohol can also be mentioned on non-inquest cases.
“With regard to the CSO working on definitive figures on alcohol related deaths it is    something we are looking at but I cannot state any time frame at present as there is some considerable checking involved and this would have to fit in around ongoing work,” Mr O’Shea said.
In 2007 the system of codification changed, resulting in the much broader figure regarding mentions of alcohol on the death certificate.
In preceding years, deaths were classified according to alcohol dependence and non-dependent use of drugs, including alcohol. In 2006, for example, fewer than 100 deaths were attributed to these causes.
Nation-wide in 2007, when alcohol was mentioned on 645 death certificates, 125 references related to men aged 45 to 54.
The following year, when alcohol was mentioned on 636 death certificates, it was the male 55 to 64 age group with the most mentions, at 125.
In the 15 to 24 age group, alcohol was mentioned in 72 deaths over the three-year period. The highest number of references are across the age groups 35 to 44 years, 45 to 54 years and 55 to 64 years.
The number of alcohol references between men and women was roughly 3 to 1.
Ms O’Dea said the number of cases coming before coroners where alcohol had played a significant role in a death was increasing as reflected in the Donegal figures.

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