20 Apr 2011

Student's death reminder of dangers of alcohol - coroner

5:33 pm on 20 April 2011

Auckland Coroner Gordon Matenga says the death of a King's College student is a reminder of how dangerous alcohol can be.

James Webster, 16, died in a bed surrounded by vomit in May last year after attending a 16th birthday party with his peers.

In his findings issued on Wednesday, Mr Matenga said James died of acute alcohol intoxication after drinking a number of shots of Jagermeister and vodka.

Adults at the party decided he should be taken to a house to sleep off the effects of the alcohol, but he was found dead in the morning.

Mr Matenga says the Families Commission should develop and promote alcohol awareness and education at home, so young people can be taught how to be safe with alcohol.

He urged parents to talk to their children about the dangers of drinking, saying teenagers need to know drinking 250ml of spirits in a short period could kill them.

The coroner said parents should err on the side of caution and call an ambulance when dealing with a young person who has been seriously affected by alcohol as doctors and paramedics can then decide the safest action to take.

But an anti-alcohol campaign group has criticised the coroner's recommendations, saying education campaigns struggle to change behaviour and will not have an effect on the youth binge-drinking culture.

Alcohol Action says instead, alcohol needs to be treated like tobacco with a full ban on any advertising.

Coroner's comments

The coroner issued the following warning to parents and young people:

''James Charles Webster was a young man who died as a result of acute alcohol intoxication.

"'He drank a large amount of spirits very quickly. He was put to bed to sleep it off but was found deceased in the morning.

''James' death is a reminder to all that alcohol can be a dangerous drug.

''Young people and their parents are asked to please be aware of the following matters that have been highlighted by the circumstances of his death:

''One. At very high levels, alcohol can cause a person to become unconscious. As a result that person has less control of breathing and is in danger of their airway becoming blocked. That person may also vomit and aspirate vomit. Death may result.

''Two. If a person becomes unconscious due to the effects of alcohol, the safest first aid treatment is to call for an ambulance and let properly trained medical professionals assess the situation. If an ambulance is not available someone will need to keep watch over the unconscious person until they have recovered.

''Three. If you drink 250mls or more of 40% spirits over 30 to 60 minutes, you may have consumed a potentially fatal dose of alcohol without feeling drunk. If you then become unconscious, you will need medical assistance immediately.''