Authors: Ursula Ehmke, Lorraine du Toit-Prinsloo & Gert Saayman

Keyword: substance abuse, South Africa, Tshwane, Pretoria


The misuse of alcohol has a particularly detrimental effect and is one of the most significant public health problems in South Africa and it also has an impact on the criminal justice system with evidence of association between high levels of alcohol and risk-taking behaviour, committing crimes, or being a victim of crime. A global trend has been set worldwide with alcohol being one of the most common drugs found in post mortem specimens and especially with regard to cases admitted for medico-legal autopsies. The influence of alcohol on the cause of death is either a contributory or an underlying factor in a substantial number of violent deaths. We retrospectively reviewed 1455 cases, in which alcohol was taken, of 2344 medico-legal autopsies done in 2009. We found that 47% of the cases tested positive for alcohol, with the reported blood alcohol concentrations varying from 0.01 to 0.95 g per 100 ml (mean = 0.16 ± 0.11 g per 100 ml) with the highest proportion being in the 0.10–0.19 g per 100 ml range. A breakdown of the results showed that road traffic accidents, assaults and firearm-related deaths predominated the alcohol-positive cases. The results showed that there was a definite correlation between alcohol consumption and the incidence of other that natural deaths.