Drinking’s Role in Alcohol-related Deaths Greatly Under-reported in Irish Newspapers, Study Finds
May 08, 2014
Researchers expressed concern that the lack of awareness of the role of alcohol in deaths impacts on support for public health measures.
Reports of confirmed alcohol-related deaths in Irish newspapers are failing to reflect the role of alcohol consumption in these fatalities, a new study has found.
The study by Dr John Fagan, Senior Registrar in Child and Adolescent psychiatry, Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, Dr Suzi Lyons, Senior Researcher, Health Research Board, and Dr Bobby Smyth, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Addiction Studies, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin which has recently been published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism, looked at the newspaper reporting of alcohol-related deaths in Ireland over a two-year period.
These were deaths due to alcohol poisoning or trauma, including choking, drowning, falls, road traffic collisions and fires, where alcohol was identified as a causal contributor to death. The research excluded deaths due to suicide and chronic alcohol-related medical conditions.
The study found that in 100 reports of 43 deaths, in both national and local newspapers, not one article reported that a person was drunk. Only two articles, about the same person, stated clearly that a deceased person had been drinking for a prolonged period of time before their death.
Two thirds of the articles (67%) omitted any mention or suggestion of alcohol use whatsoever. In one third of articles where the possibility of alcohol consumption was suggested, in 75% of these cases it was simply to indicate that the person had been 'socialising' prior to their death.
The study population was identified using the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI) which is an epidemiological database that records all deaths due to drugs and/or alcohol poisoning (as well as deaths among drug users and those who are alcohol-dependent.) This database is maintained by the Health Research Board and is Government funded.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year at least 2.5 million people die prematurely as a result of the consumption of alcohol. Worldwide and in Europe, this makes alcohol the third leading cause of premature death and disability (Global Health Risks WHO, 2009). At least 25% of these early deaths involving alcohol are accidental in nature. Irish research indicates that alcohol is involved in 35–60% of unintended deaths caused by drowning, fire, falls and road traffic collisions.
Dr Smyth continued: “If a person drowns after being washed into sea by a freak wave while walking along a pier at 2pm, then that is an entirely unpredictable tragedy. If a person drowns after going for a swim on a dangerous beach at 1am, having spent the previous five hours downing a large quantity of alcohol, that type of death is qualitatively different. Our study indicates that both such deaths are likely to be presented to the public as tragic accidents, with alcohol almost completely airbrushed out of the reporting of the second death.”
Press Officer for
the Faculty of Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Yolanda Kennedy,
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