83 Kiwis drink until they die

More than 83 New Zealanders have drunk themselves to death since July 2007, coroners' figures show.

Alcohol poisoning has hit the headlines again with the death of Auckland schoolboy James Webster.

James, 16, a year 12 pupil at King's College, died in his sleep after drinking straight vodka last Saturday night while his parents thought he was at a friend's house studying.

Office of the Chief Coroner figures show an average of nearly three deaths a month in New Zealand over the past few years.

Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer told the Alcohol Advisory Committee this month that there had been no recorded deaths from methamphetamine overdose in New Zealand.

In contrast, between July 2007 and February this year, 83 people had died from alcohol poisoning, "literally drinking themselves to death".

Another 1000 people a year were estimated to die of alcohol-related causes, and thousands more were injured as a result or their own or somebody else's drinking, he said.

The commission has suggested a raft of changes to alcohol laws that are being considered by the Government.

Last night, the mother of a 23-year-old Canterbury University student who collapsed after an all-day drinking session and died in Christchurch Hospital, said education was the key to helping prevent further tragedies.

The mother, who did not want to be named, appealed to young people to "look after yourself and your mates when you are drinking".

"I would just like to encourage young people to take care," she said.

"They don't realise how quickly alcohol can take hold."

Her son was a bright, fit, sensible young man, "and for him to die like that was an absolute tragedy".

A coroner's report into his death found the student attended the Riccarton races with friends on September 20, 2008.

He drank a large amount of alcohol during the day and then carried on drinking at a friend's house before collapsing shortly before midnight.

He was admitted to hospital suffering from hypoxic brain injury and died two days later.

His blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit for driving at about 370mg per 100ml of blood.

Friends described playing drinking games that night.

Some saw the student fall and hit his head minutes before collapsing.

His mother said her son, like most students, enjoyed having a few beers with his mates but might have got caught up in the excitement of the races.

"You can try to tell your children many times [about alcohol], but actually I never had to worry about him because he always looked after himself."

She said curbs on alcohol advertising and the availability of cheap alcohol could help, but education remained the key to changing behaviour.

"A group awareness is really important as well as just making the right choices for yourself," she said.

Christchurch Hospital emergency department specialist Scott Pearson said staff treated "severely intoxicated" people every weekend.

Patients were kept on their sides with their airways clear, given oxygen and kept under close observation.

He said they were usually young.

"There's a lack of knowledge, not only understanding of what's a reasonable volume to drink in one evening, but trying to overcome a bit of peer pressure," Pearson said

About one-third of patients on Friday and Saturday nights are treated for alcohol-related problems.

The Press