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Alcohol and unnatural deaths in the West of Ireland: a 5-year review
  1. Helen Ingoldsby,
  2. Grace Callagy
  1. Discipline of Pathology, NUI Galway, Clinical Science Institute and Department of Pathology, University Hospital Galway, Galway, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Grace Callagy, Discipline of Pathology, NUI Galway, Clinical Science Institute, Costello Rd, Galway, Ireland; grace.callagy{at}


Aim To investigate the prevalence of alcohol in unnatural deaths in the West of Ireland between 2003 and 2007.

Methods The reports of 1669 postmortem examinations carried out at Galway University Hospitals were reviewed; 379 non-homicidal unnatural deaths were eligible for the study. Alcohol levels were measured in blood and/or urine in 311 cases. For each case, gender, age, cause of death and toxicology results were recorded.

Results Alcohol was detected in 162 out of 311 cases (52%); 133 (82%) cases were men and 29 (18%) were women. Alcohol levels >150 mg/100 ml were found in 99 cases (61%), most commonly in 18–49-year-olds (n=74; 75%). Road traffic crashes (RTCs) (n=38; 23%), drownings (n=38; 23%) and hangings (n=25; 15%) were common unnatural deaths associated with alcohol. The majority of RTC deaths involved the driver (n=27; 71%). The alcohol level was higher than the legal driving limit of 80 mg/100 ml in 82% (n=22) and >150 mg/100 ml in 59% (n=16) of these. Mortality of passengers (n=6; 16%) and pedestrians (n=5; 13%) was less common.

Conclusions Alcohol remains a major contributor to unnatural deaths in the West of Ireland, particularly with respect to mortality in young people. Young men are especially vulnerable. Deaths in RTCs and by drowning and hanging are commonly associated with alcohol. Many driver fatalities involve alcohol levels far above legal limits. Alcohol measurement in all unnatural deaths would facilitate more accurate determination of its role.

  • Alcohol
  • post-mortem
  • toxicology
  • clinical audit
  • unnatural death
  • death

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.