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Open Access Research article

Drowning deaths in Sweden with emphasis on the presence of alcohol and drugs – a retrospective study, 1992–2009

Kristin Ahlm1*, Britt-Inger Saveman2 and Ulf Björnstig3

Author affiliations

1 Section of Forensic Medicine, Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Umeå University, POB 7616, Umeå, SE 907 12, Sweden

2 Department of Nursing, Umeå University, Umeå, SE 901 87, Sweden

3 Division of Surgery/KBC, Department of Surgical and Perioperative Sciences, Umeå University, Umeå, SE 901 87, Sweden

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:216  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-216

Published: 11 March 2013

Abstract

Background

Drowning deaths constitute a significant proportion of unnatural deaths globally. In Sweden and other high-income countries, drowning deaths have decreased. This study investigates the epidemiology and current trends of unintentional, intentional, and undetermined drowning deaths with emphasis on the presence of alcohol and other drugs.

Methods

During an 18-years period, 5,125 drowning deaths were autopsied in Sweden. Data on cases including toxicological analysis on alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, and illicit drugs were obtained from the National Board of Forensic Medicine.

Results

During the study period, the annual incidence of drowning deaths in Sweden was 3.1/100,000 inhabitants and decreased on average by about 2% each year (p<0.001). The highest incidence was found among males and in middle/older age groups. The incidence increased 3% for each year of age. Children/adolescents (≤18 years) constituted 5% of all drowning deaths. Of all drowned females in the study, 55% (847/1,547) committed suicide, which was a significantly higher proportion compared with males (21%, 763/3,578) (p<0.001). In total, 38% (1,656/4,377) of tested drowned persons had alcohol in their blood and the mean concentration was 1.8 g/l. In the unintentional drowning group, intentional drowning group, and the undetermined group, the proportion of alcohol positive was 44%, 24%, and 45%, respectively. One or several psychoactive drugs were present in the blood in 40% (1,688 /4,181) of all tested persons and in 69% (965/1,394) of tested persons who died from suicidal drowning. The most common drug was benzodiazepines (21%, 891/4,181). Illicit drugs were detected in 10% (82/854) of tested persons.

Conclusion

Presence of alcohol and drugs were frequent and may have contributed to the drowning deaths. The incidence of drowning deaths significantly decreased during the study period. Males and the middle/older age groups had a higher incidence compared to females and children. Suicidal drowning was common especially among women. Alcohol and drugs are significant contributors in drowning deaths in Sweden and should be considered as part of a comprehensive prevention program.

Keywords:
Alcohol; Drowning; Illicit drugs; Pharmaceutical drugs; Suicide