Unintentional fatal drowning among older people is an issue as lifespans lengthen and older people embrace active retirement. While pre-existing medical conditions are a known risk factor for drowning among this age group, less is known about the role of alcohol and drugs. This 15-year (1 July 2002 to 30 June 2017) Australian study used coronial data to investigate the impact on older people (aged 65 years and older) of the obtundent effects of prescribed drugs which had been ingested by those with a positive blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Of the closed coronial cases with toxicological information (N = 471), one quarter (24.6%; N = 116) had consumed alcohol prior to drowning (one in seven BAC ≥ 0.05%), of which a third also had obtundent drugs present (33.6%; N = 39). Rivers/creeks/streams and swimming pools were the locations with the highest number of drowning deaths. Bathtubs (36.8%) and rivers/creeks/streams (17.9%) recorded the highest proportion of cases with victims having a BAC ≥ 0.05%. Bathtubs (13.2%), lakes (7.0%), and rivers/creeks/streams (6.8%) recorded the highest proportion of drowning cases with obtundent drug involvement. Obtundent drug involvement was significantly more likely for activities where the person who drowned was alone (i.e., unknown activity) (X2
= 6.8; p
= 0.009). Common obtundent drugs included Diazepam, Tempazepam, and Codeine. Advocacy to prevent drowning in older people is a complex challenge, due to the myriad of locations where drowning occurs, the consumption of alcohol, and polypharmacy required for treating illness and maintaining good health.
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