Alcohol a factor in more than half of fatal fires

Long-awaited minimum unit pricing will help reduce the risk of fire deaths, says Alcohol Action Ireland.

Alcohol a factor in more than half of fatal fires

Long-awaited minimum unit pricing will help reduce the risk of fire deaths, says Alcohol Action Ireland.

A study by the Health Research Board of fire deaths found that alcohol was a factor in more than half of fatal fires in Ireland.

Minimum unit pricing is a key component of the Public Health Alcohol Act but it requires a separate government decision.

Chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland, Dr Sheila Gilheany, said people in Ireland were drinking at very high and risky levels.

“This has all sorts of consequences for physical and mental health and, unfortunately, can also be a factor in such tragic incidents as outlined in the HRB report,” said Dr Gilheany.

“The measures contained in the act, implemented coherently will reduce hospital admissions, decrease risky consumption and, therefore, risky behaviour and will save lives,” she said.

Minister for Health Simon Harris is to seek Cabinet approval on the minimum unit price of alcohol by the end of the year.

Dr Gilheany pointed out that Scotland introduced minimum unit pricing in May last year and Wales is set to introduce in March next year.

“Ireland has groundbreaking legislation – we need to use it,” she said.

The HRB study of 101 domestic fires between 2014 and 2016 that resulted in 106 fatalities found that just over half (51%) of those who died had alcohol in their blood.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of those with alcohol in their system has over three times the legal living limit.

The study points out that those with higher blood alcohol concentration would have a reduced ability to respond to fire.

With a blood alcohol concentration of 160mg/100ml, their balance and coordination would be affected and they may have lost consciousness.

Men were more likely than women to have alcohol in their system and more likely to have a high blood alcohol concentration.

Among men with high levels of alcohol in their blood, more than half were aged between 35 and 59 years.

Dr Gilheany said they knew from research that Irish men had very high levels of alcohol consumption and a consistent pattern of binge drinking.

“In a global study on the level of alcohol consumption, 54% of Irish men were considered to be binge drinkers, defined as drinking at least standard drinks on one drinking occasion, which is especially hazardous for health and wellbeing,” said Dr Gilheany.

Data obtained from coroner reports also show that of the 46 people with drugs in their blood, two in three had more than one drug listed.

After alcohol, the most common drugs present were antidepressants, followed by benzodiazepines, non-opioid analgesics and hypnotics.

Almost one in three of those who died were smokers or it was highly probable that they were smoking around the time of the fire.

The rate of smoking is currently estimated to be close to one in five so smokers are over-represented in the fire fatalities. Of the 32 smokers, 12 had smoking materials listed as a possible cause of the fire.

Most smokers had alcohol in their blood at the time of their death and 14 had a high blood/alcohol level that would have affected their ability to respond to a fire.

The research found that older people, single people, men and those living in rural areas are at a higher risk of dying in a residential fire.

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