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Report looks at deadly impacts of alcohol on children and young people

Child & Youth Mortality Review Committee
07 September 2011

Release of report The involvement of alcohol consumption in the deaths of children and young people in New Zealand during the years 2005 – 2007  

A new report highlights the strong contribution of alcohol to the dramatic increase in the rate of death by injury after the age of fifteen, with many young people becoming victims of their own drinking or the drinking of others.

The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee (CYMRC) special report into the role of alcohol in the deaths of children and young people in New Zealand was released today.

CYMRC operates under the umbrella of the Health Quality & Safety Commission and reviews the deaths of children and young people aged from 28 days to 24 years old.

The report considers 357 deaths from injury, during the years 2005 to 2007, of children and young people aged between 4 weeks and 24 years. In 87 of these, the death was attributable to alcohol or alcohol clearly contributed to the death. Of these 87 deaths, 49 involved a motor vehicle, 16 involved assault and 11 were due to drowning. The majority of these deaths related to young people 15 to 24 years.

CYMRC Chair Dr Nick Baker says there is a dramatic increase in death and injury rates from the age of 15, often related to adolescent risk-taking behaviour for which alcohol is a precipitating factor.

“For instance, we see deaths and injuries sustained by teenagers who drive while drunk, get into cars driven by other people who are drunk, or suffer fatal assault  while under the influence themselves or where the assailant has been drinking.

“Binge drinking is a particular problem when added to the natural tendency of this age group to take risks, contributing to many deaths in young people.”

Dr Baker says alcohol and motor vehicles are a lethal mixture.

“We need to put as much separation as possible between the processes of young people learning how to drink alcohol responsibly and learning how to drive safely. This is why CYMRC expressed support for the recent introduction of a zero blood-alcohol limit for teenage drivers, and enforcement of legislation to prevent young people from breaching the conditions of their driving licences.

“The report also highlights that females and younger males most frequently die because of other people’s drinking. This is a very important message for young people who want to keep themselves safe and for parents and caregivers so they can support their young people to stay safe.”

Dr Baker says the report recommends limiting the availability of alcohol and making it less attractive, asking communities to consider establishing liquor bans in some areas, and extending ‘host responsibility’ and health promotion messages.  

An important part of making alcohol less attractive to young people is reducing the advertising that creates close links between sport, sporting role models and alcohol, he says.

The report notes that there is very little information about the impact of alcohol on the supervision and care of infants and children.

“Police do not have a mandate to test for alcohol-related impairment whenever a child is injured or dies.”

He says every infant and child needs a sober caregiver, and anyone who drinks to the point of impairment needs a sober friend to help keep them safe.

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