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Alcohol and water sports a fatal mix.

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TW 07/03 Monday 17 March 2003


The release of a Commonwealth-funded report into the role played by alcohol in drowning fatalities serves as a timely reminder that alcohol and water sports can be a fatal mix, Parliamentary Secretary on Health, Trish Worth said today.

'Alcohol and Water Safety in Australia' was released on behalf of Ms Worth at the 6th Australian Injury Prevention and Control Conference and the inaugural Asia-Pacific Injury Conference in Perth.

"The report confirms that alcohol is implicated in 30 per cent of drowning deaths related to recreational aquatic activity," Ms Worth said.

"Drowning is the fourth leading cause of death in developed countries; for children under 4 years of age, it is the second leading cause of death. While alcohol is increasingly recognised as a factor in many drowning fatalities, research to date has been unable to quantify the association.

"This report provides valuable insight into the role played by alcohol in drowning, particularly with regard to recreational aquatic activities, and the evidence available to us to set priorities and formulate policy."

The report utilises, for the first time, the more comprehensive data provided by the National Coroners Information System (NCIS) and confirms that alcohol is implicated in 21 per cent of drowning deaths and 30 per cent drowning deaths related to recreational aquatic activity.

The report's authors have identified the NCIS as a valuable new source of information for public health research. Its use in conjunction with Australian Bureau of Statistics data can provide comprehensive assessment of alcohol-relatedness in drowning deaths.

Also of vital importance is reliable and up-to-date information on patterns of alcohol use among people taking part in aquatic activities, so more effective prevention strategies can be developed.

"Drinking increases the relative risk of drowning even at low levels of blood alcohol content and increases as those levels increase," Ms Worth said.

"Alcohol impairs balance and coordination, judgement and cognition, placing not only the driver of a boat, for example, in peril, but everyone on board. Once a person is in the water, their ability to keep their head above water is diminished, and drowning becomes more likely."

"Effective prevention relies on a thorough understanding of aquatic activities, alcohol use and the way that these interact. Developing these sources of information and combining their results will glean far more sophisticated insight into the patterns of alcohol-related harm during aquatic activities."

Ms Worth said the findings of the report support the preventive initiatives of the Government. The National Alcohol Strategy states it is important that the community is aware of the specific risks involved in use of alcohol around water, and drowning is one of the four targeted areas in the National Injury Prevention Plan.

Media contact: Mark Williams, Trish Worth's Office 0401 147 558