Alcohol culprit for one in three injuries in Latvia: emergency service

Latvian Radio continued its ongoing exploration of Latvia's problems with alcohol consumption April 27 with a look at tragedies that could have been prevented had alcohol not been used.

One in three injuries in Latvia are obtained under the influence of alcohol, reports the Emergency Medical Service. Unfortunately, such cases often end in a tragedy. Most often, people die in fires, as well as by drowning or freezing For the emergency services, it is often very difficult to help them, because they are aggressive or unable to cooperate with the personnel.

End of December, 2018. Ināra (name changed) has a birthday. Some friends come over for a drink. Since Ināra hasn't been paying utility bills for some time, electricity is turned off, and candles are lit. When friends leave, Ināra stays alone with her cats and dozes off. The cats tip over the candles, and a fire starts.

The story of Ināra is told by Zane, her niece. “The variant we were told was that the cats had been roaming there. A candle fell, and she hadn't managed to get out of the apartment. She was in the intensive care unit for a week and then she died. For the first time, she was revived, and then they couldn't do it again."

Ināra used to drink often. She worked at a good job and said she did not drink during the working days. On the day after her birthday, Ināra had to work. Zane said: “If she hadn't really used anything, she would have gone out of that apartment. And then, as the firefighters went to rescue her, to try to take her out of the apartment, it was evident that she had crawled towards the exit, but she was lost in the smoke somewhere and had failed. Then she breathed smoke and lost consciousness."

Zane believes that without alcohol, the tragedy would not have happened.

Emergency Service statistics

People under the influence of alcohol often become careless or reckless. This leads to a variety of injuries, including life-threatening situations, as confirmed by the Emergency Medical Service (NMPD). Drunk people are a tough load on medical staff in Latvia. Often, intoxication is the main reason why the patient needs emergency help.

In general, of all NMPD calls, about 15% of cases have a person under the influence of alcohol. Even more severe statistics are in the event of injuries. Last year, every third injured person was drunk.

NMPD medic Lauma Sproga-Jankoviča told Latvian Radio: “It is very common. In such calls [with injuries] 30 percent are drunk. And very often, alcohol use has been the reason for such an accident. Yes, if a person is under the influence of intoxicating substances, the consciousness is not clear and the senses are dulled, then they suffer more. Let's say, in fires. Most often, where someone has burned to death – alcohol has also been there.”

Alcohol is also often present in drowning and freezing cases, the medic said. There are no specific statistics on these cases at the NMPD, but Sproga-Jankoviča confirmed that they are not rare.

Fires and drinking

The fact that fires and injuries coincide with drinking was confirmed by Ivo Bendrats, a representative of the State Fire and Rescue Service's Rīga Regional Administration. He said: “It often seems that the person is under the influence of alcohol. There have been a lot of cases where [the caller] cannot indicate exactly the information, or where there may be a friend or relative, which makes it difficult to save them [..]."

There are also no specific statistics for firefighters on the presence of alcohol in various accidents. There is no official information about the presence of alcohol in Aunt Ināra''s tragic story, but the family is convinced that it would not have happened without alcohol. Zane's family did not know much about the drinking until the accident.

However, after finding out the fact that Ināra had aunt hadn't paid the utility bills, the relatives had a different picture of her.

“We knew she had those 'bottle brothers'. But I liked to think she didn't drink alone, so I thought she maybe overdid a bit with friends at times. It shows that a close person can hide so much, you can talk to them for days and weeks, and you don't know what the real problem is and how deep it is,” Zane said.

Drunkenness endangers rescuers

There is another problem – it is difficult to work with people under the influence, said the NMPD medic, Lauma Sproga-Jankoviča.

She said: “Most vividly I remember a boxer who was intoxicated and had seizures. It was an ex-boxer, very large in the flesh. I was alone with the driver and it was a very unpleasant situation. [..] We waited for him to be unconscious and found that it was possible to bring the patient to the hospital. But we had to catch the right moment. It had to be very swift. But if you think about it now, it was a threat to the medics themselves."

Drunkenness also makes the day-to-day work difficult at NMPD's specialized medical center, said neurosurgeon Dmitrijs Gavriļins. The task of the staff of the specialized medical center is to go to places where a particular specialist is needed but not available. Gavriļins explained that they very regularly work with intoxicated patients.

"The typical example is in the admission department, when we are mass-hospitalizing patients under the influence of alcohol. And they're so drunk that they don't actually know what's happened to them and what's wrong with them. Consequently, we are forced to occasionally make unnecessary exams, CT exams, to exclude potential risks.”

In general, employees of medical institutions and operational services see the alcohol problem in Latvia almost every day.

“The typical example is a 40-50-year-old man in the department, and his mom comes to visit. The patient is getting a head injury again and again, admitted to the department. And the mom still hopes he will stop drinking. We are, of course, also trying to influence [them] psychologically on our part. But now you can imagine how much authority I can have over that patient every day. It goes out the other ear,” the doctor said.

There is no one recipe for reducing alcoholism among Latvian residents. Unfortunately, it is the tragic experience that works best at times. Zane has been drinking very little since Aunt Ināra's death. "Well, we still have some kind of blood relation and alcoholism can be passed on. I don't want to challenge fate. I don't want my life to end so abruptly and people are left wounded. I want to wait for my old age, to say good-bye to everyone in peace, not an abrupt end,” she said.

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