WA teen dies from alcohol overdose

Nicole Bicknell died during her own 18th birthday party that was held at her home in Perth just three weeks ago. Her death was reported yesterday. Nicole died after a family friend gave her an unspecified amount of a spirit called Polmos Spirytus Rektyfikowany (PSR), which has an alcoholic volume (ABV) of 95%. PSR is an extraordinarily potent form of alcohol. By comparison, it is usual for spirits, such as brandy, scotch, gin, whisky, bourbon, to have an ABV of around 40%. Adults can die from an alcoholic overdose after drinking less than a bottle of spirits of 40% ABV, so Polmos Spirytus Rektyfikowany, a product with 95% ABV, is more than doubly lethal.

We wonder how it is possible for liquor stores to sell a product which can kill the consumer without giving the consumer any warning that the product is toxic, and needs to be handled with caution. We wonder why the alcohol industry doesn’t warn their customers about the risks of their product and how to consume the product as safely as possible. We wonder why Australia’s politicians haven’t demanded that the spirits industry act as though it cares about the health and wellbeing of drinkers.

Cold and flu tablets come with warnings that we should avoid drinking alcohol when taking them. They warn the tablets may cause drowsiness, and that if we feel drowsy we should avoid driving a motor car, or operating machinery. Yet alcohol causes drowsiness, interferes with the capacity to drive a motor car, and to operate machinery. That was decided about halfway through the twentieth century. The consumer protection advice on cold and flu tablet also says children should avoid them.

Meanwhile, alcohol, which causes 5500 fatalities and 157,000 visits to hospitals per year, is allowed to ‘self-regulate’ its advice to the public. As ‘self-regulation’ in Australia translates as ‘no regulation’, drinkers are left to be poisoned, as was Nicole Bicknell, without the benefit of a warning against unsafe use.

Astonishingly, the spirits industry has admitted that spirits are dangerous (Ref, below). In 2009, during the alcopops tax debate, the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia maintained that alcopops are safer to drink than spirits because spirits are ‘potent’ and ‘more dangerous’ e.g.

  • “the tax has turned many RTD drinkers to drinking bottles of spirits at significantly higher alcohol content levels”;
  • “consumers…opt for the more potent and potentially more dangerous drinks”;
  • ‘[the tax] has simply driven drinkers to cheaper and more potent alternatives”.

Yet since the alcopops tax was decided, the diabolical spirits industry council and its members have “forgotten” that spirits are dangerous, and so they have “forgotten” to warn their customers.

So people continue to be poisoned, and die, without warning. We find it difficult to properly describe the industry that behaves in this way.

Can you help us – give us your description of the Australian spirits industry, in 10 words or less. We will publish the non-defamatory ones.

For the complete story see Munro G., Why the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia is not a credible partner for the Australian government in making alcohol policy,Drug and Alcohol Review, (2012), 31, 365–369.  DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00404.x