Alcohol, prescription meds led to death

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 11:40 16/11/2012

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A coroner has warned of the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, particularly when taking medication which has a depressant effect on the central nervous system.

Coroner David Crerar made the comments in a report on the death of Dunedin beneficiary Christopher Raymond Collins Short, 43.

Firefighters found Short's body face down on a bed at his home at North East Valley, Dunedin in August 2011. The fire service had been alerted after a neighbour heard a smoke alarm and saw smoke.

A pot containing meat was found to have burned dry on the stovetop. The house was filled with smoke but not to the extend that the oxygen supply would have been starved to anyone inside.

Police found Short had been drinking to excess and had also taken prescription medicine which would have added to the central nervous depressant effect of alcohol, the coroner's report said.

After putting meat for his evening meal on the stove, he had gone to his bedroom, collapsed and died.

Short's GP listed a history of alcoholism, depression and suicide attempts.

Analysis by ESR found Short had a reading of 418 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, more than five times the legal limit for driving.

There were also 560 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine. A higher urine-alcohol concentration indicated a prior higher blood-alcohol concentration, the coroner said.

Prescribed antidepressant citalopram was detected in Short's blood at a level consistent with therapeutic use.

Diazepam, prescribed for the short term relief of anxiety and for control of muscle spasms, was detected at levels below those normally associated with therapeutic use. Promethazine, prescribed as a sedative and antihistamine, and as an anti-nausea agent, was detected at levels around those consistent with therapeutic use.

ESR said patients prescribed promethazine were warned to avoid alcohol. It advised the level of alcohol in Short's blood would have an additive effect to the central nervous depressant action of the promethazine and diazepam.

People had died with blood alcohol levels ranging from 50 to 800 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

Concentrations in the 300 to 500-milligram range were more common in alcohol-related deaths.

The coroner found Short died as a result of cardiovascular arrest caused by the ingestion of central nervous system depressants, including alcohol.

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