Alcohol kills
The cold facts about alcohol related deaths

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 01/99) - Of all deaths investigated by NWT chief coroner Percy Kinney in 1998, alcohol played a role in 11 of them. That's 11 out of 31.

This summer, there were two cases of death due to acute alcohol toxicity in Yellowknife. An 18-year-old male was found dead in a room at the Igloo Inn. His alcohol level was measured at 4.5 grams per litre (g/l) of blood. The other death was a man in his 50s. He died in a yard behind the Salvation Army with a blood alcohol level of 5.5 g/l.

When a car careened off the Ingraham Trail in August and rolled upside down into a lake, three teenage occupants died. Alcohol was a contributing factor.

"For those who die in an accident where the driver has been drinking, the manner of death is accidental but alcohol is listed as a contributing factor," Kinney said.

"A high percentage of people who commit suicide have been drinking. It may not be listed as a contributing factor but I have to ask, did the alcohol play a role in their death? Was the alcohol the catalyst that pushed the person over the edge?"

When Kinney gets an autopsy report back where alcohol levels are recorded at 4.5 and 5.5 g/l, he can only shake his head. Alcohol starts to be considered a possible cause of death at 3.5 g/l. The legal drinking limit to operate a car is .8 g/l.

"It's really hard to say how much alcohol a person would have to consume to die because it depends on things like body size and tolerance levels -- but it's a lot," Kinney said.

With winter around the corner, Kinney is bracing himself for the exposure deaths that he knows are coming. There were four deaths in 1998 attributed to exposure. Alcohol was a contributing factor in all of them.

"People get drunk, they go outside without being properly dressed, they get lost and confused, and the next thing you know they lie down and go to sleep," Kinney said.

"We have had people die 10 feet from their home and alcohol intoxication is almost always listed as a contributing factor. I guess the message I want to get out is to remind people that alcohol at any level is dangerous. I can't stress that fact enough."

While people do die of alcohol abuse, many others are finding a way to manage their disease, and rehabilitate themselves.

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) holds meetings in Yellowknife seven days a week to help people overcome their drinking problems in a supportive and positive environment. The only requirement of membership is to have a desire to stop drinking.

Yellowknife Salvation Army assistant executive director Karen Hoeft said their organization isn't associated with A.A., but does offer withdrawal services for the early stages of alcohol abuse recovery.

"The first and most important step to overcoming an alcohol problem is to be truthful and honest with yourself. Once you can do that, the next step is to find someone who will listen."