Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show that between 2007 and 2009 alcohol was mentioned on death certificates in 1,895 cases dealt with by coroners.
Chairwoman of the Coroners Society, Isobel O’Dea, said anecdotally there had been a rise in the number of cases coming before coroners where alcohol had played a significant role, but she stressed that just because alcohol is mentioned on a death certificate did not mean it played a direct or contributory role in the death.
Ms O’Dea, the Clare county coroner, said it was likely alcohol would only warrant a mention on a death certificate if the amount found in toxicology reports was a minimum of 100mg, which is higher than the current drink- driving limit.
However, she said there were “no guidelines” as to how individual coroners dealt with the presence of alcohol in a deceased person and, in many cases, there was no way of knowing what role, if any, it had played in that person’s death.
The CSO is working on a definitive figure regarding deaths directly or indirectly attributable to alcohol.
However, the system of codification changed in 2007, resulting in the much broader figure regarding mentions of alcohol on the death certificate.
In preceding years, deaths were classified according to alcohol dependence and non-dependent use of drugs, including alcohol. In 2006, for example, fewer than 100 deaths were attributed to these causes.
The CSO figures show spikes in alcohol references within certain age groups.
In 2007, when alcohol was mentioned on 645 death certificates, 125 references related to men aged 45 to 54.
The following year, when alcohol was mentioned on 636 death certificates, it was the male 55 to 64 age group with the most mentions, at 125.
In the 15 to 24 age group, alcohol was mentioned in 72 deaths over the three-year period. The highest number of references are across the age groups 35 to 44 years, 45 to 54 years and 55 to 64 years.
The number of alcohol references between men and women was roughly 3 to 1.
Ms O’Dea said the number of cases coming before coroners where alcohol had played a significant role in a death was increasing, a point reinforced by comments from three of four Donegal coroners interviewed by the Irish Examiner.