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100 percent plus increase in illegal blood alcohol levels in emergency care patients over five years

BMJ Specialty Journals

Blood alcohol levels well above the legal limit have soared 113 per cent among emergency care patients in just five years, reveals a study at one major urban hospital, published in Emergency Medicine Journal.

Men consistently outnumbered women over this period, but the absolute numbers of intoxicated women doubled, the findings show.

The authors base their findings on the results of lab tests for blood alcohol requested by emergency care doctors at Belfast City Hospital, Northern Ireland, between September 1999 and September 2000 and from September 2003 to September 2004.

The annual number of alcohol tests rose from 825 to 2031, an increase of 146%. Blood alcohol tests are reuqired to exclude certain forms of serious illness and to inform treatment.

Most of those requiring a lab test were aged between 36 and 45 across both years, but the numbers of those under the age of 26 soared 169%, rising from 97 to 261.

Men outnumbered women in every age bracket, except for the under 16s, where young women outnumbered their male peers.

The number of patients with blood alcohol above 80 mg/100 ml, which is above the legally acceptable driving limit and therefore considered to indicate intoxication, rose from 526 to 1124, representing an increase of 113%.

And the number of patients with alcohol levels above 480 mg/100 mil rose from five to 29, an increase of 480%. The highest blood alcohol recorded was 750 mg/100 ml.

The authors say that the rise in lab tests for blood alcohol is unlikely to reflect greater enthusiasm on the part of emergency care staff for the procedure; rather, it is more likely to reflect need, they say..

[Alcohol levels in the emergency department: a worrying trend Emerg Med J 2006; 23: 707-8]

Information from every emergency care department across the UK is required to build a national picture of trends, they add.

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