Objective: To provide a systematic review of the details on alcohol involvement available in the coronial files to determine if there is enough evidence to estimate the role of alcohol in drowning.
Method: We reviewed the coroner's files of persons 10 years or older who drowned in New Zealand between 1992-1994 inclusive.
Results: A total of 320 coroner's files were examined. Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BACs) were taken in 115 cases (36%) and positive for 50% of these. When accounting for the incomplete testing by using all the information on alcohol involvement collected, between 30-40% of the cases were estimated to have a positive BAC and between 17-24% to have a BAC 100 mg/dL or higher.
Conclusion: The quality and completeness of current coronial information on alcohol involvement in drowning is insufficient to arrive at an accurate estimate of the percentage of drownings where alcohol was a factor.
Implications: Coroners should test drowning victims 10 years and older for BAC. These data should be systematically recorded and processed with the goal of determining who should be targeted in drowning and alcohol prevention programs.