Drink fears are raised by coroner

CORONER William Armstrong issued a stern warning about alcohol abuse last night, saying that it was to blame for an increasing number of deaths in Norfolk.

CORONER William Armstrong issued a stern warning about alcohol abuse last night, saying that it was to blame for an increasing number of deaths in Norfolk.

From alcohol poisoning, to drink-driving and falls while intoxicated, Greater Norfolk coroner Mr Armstrong said he felt compelled to speak out about what he sees as one of the major public health issues facing Norfolk.

Mr Armstrong said he had seen a surge in the number of alcohol-related deaths.

“There's no doubt in my view that an increasing number of deaths can be attributed directly or indirectly to alcohol abuse.

“People suffering from chronic, long-standing alcohol conditions wouldn't necessarily be reported to the coroner as they would be seen as natural deaths.

“However, people die of alcohol poisoning or acute conditions as a direct consequence and several of the deaths have involved people drinking alcohol and driving.

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“There's been an increase in alcohol deaths due to the effects of drugs as well - where medication has been prescribed to people.

“Lastly, there have been many cases of people having accidents, such as falls, when intoxicated.”

Mr Armstrong is taking an active interest in how the county deals with the devastating effects of alcohol.

He recently visited the city's night-time SOS bus to see how it operates and to give the initiative his support.

Three weeks ago he spent a Friday night at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital's accident and emergency department.

He added: “It was a normal Friday night for them and included one youngster who was 15 and totally intoxicated and required professional medical help.”

Jocelyn Pike, NHS Norfolk's lead commissioner for substance misuse, said that alcohol-related deaths were on the increase both nationally and locally.

However, she said the extent of the problem in Norfolk was not as widespread as across the country as a whole.

Binge drinkers make up 16pc of the county's population, compared to England's 18pc.

The latest rates show that for every 100,000 people in Norfolk, 1,272 of them require a hospital stay due to alcohol-related harm.

The rate for England is 1,472 per 100,000 people.

Miss Pike said: “On the one hand you need to be mindful of this context. On the other hand I fully support Mr Armstrong's concerns and any recognition to the potential damage alcohol can do is good, especially if it raises awareness.”

Recent research carried out by NHS Norfolk confirms there is also a prevalence of alcohol-abuse among over-65s in less deprived areas, such as South Norfolk and Broadland, something for which there has only previously been anecdotal evidence.

In the 2007-8 financial year, 148 women and nine girls under 18 were admitted to hospital for alcohol poisoning, up from a total of 95 women and girls in 2003-4.

Six boys under 18 and 137 men were in hospital for the same reason - up 57pc on five years before.

Between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, there were 340 under-18s recorded as having consumed alcohol before coming into the A&E department at the NNUH, and 92 who overdosed on alcohol.

The previous year there were 396 cases where alcohol was a factor and 76 which were classed as overdoses.