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Drinking homebrew 'fraught with risk'

Last updated 05:00 15/01/2013

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An alcohol watchdog is warning of the risks of drinking home-distilled spirits following the death of an Auckland teenager.

Tyson Devon, 18, was drinking homebrewed spirits with friends at a birthday party in Rosehill, South Auckland on Saturday afternoon when he passed out and was later found dead.

His death has been referred to the coroner.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said drinking home-distilled spirits was fraught with risk.

"The trouble with the spirits is you don't know the alcohol content."

Brewing spirits was a huge risk to drinkers, which had been highlighted overseas, she said.

In the most recent case Liam Davies, 19, suffered methanol poisoning after drinking at a bar on the island of Lombok, near Bali, on New Year's Eve. 

The Taranaki-born teenager was taken to a local hospital for treatment and then flown to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth where he died.

Methanol is a toxic chemical sometimes added to drinks to make them more alcoholic.

The effects of methanol poisoning can range from vomiting to liver failure and, in extreme cases, death. 

A coroner also warned of the dangers of homebrewed spirits in February 2011.

Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar questioned the availability of homebrewed spirits in Invercargill following the death of Stella Tuhakaraina.

She had purchased a lemonade bottle of homebrew for $20 in the hours before her death.

The 20-year-old died instantly from severe head injuries when her car slammed into a power pole on a Southland highway in 2010. 

However, an Auckland brewer said home-distilled spirits were safe, it was the quantity consumed that carried risk.

Brewers Co-op manager Bryan Livingstone said most customers were over 40, rather than teenagers out to get drunk.

It was more likely the amount consumed that caused the teenager's death, rather than the actual home-distilled spirits, he said.

"I'm pretty confident it wouldn't be the quality of alcohol but the quantity consumed."

It is illegal to sell home-distilled liquor, but you can brew it for your own consumption at home.

Distillers can insert a small tube into the spirit kit, which accurately measures how strong the spirits are, he said.

Tyson passed out after drinking during the afternoon and his friends put him in the recovery position.

His friends checked on him shortly before 6.30pm and found he was not breathing.

A St John ambulance spokesperson said staff found Devon in cardiac arrest and despite attempts to resuscitate him he died at the scene.

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Senior Sergeant Spencer Matthews said he could not speculate on the cause of death as the matter had been referred to the coroner.

However, he said it did provide a reminder to be careful of alcohol.

"Don't abuse alcohol and take care of your mates."

- Auckland Now

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