25 Feb 2014

Police, medics battling 'tsunami' of drunkenness

10:31 am on 25 February 2014

A former police doctor says medics and police are battling a tsunami of alcohol-related cases.

A 20-year-old man died while in police custody in south Auckland on Sunday morning after being assessed by a doctor through a glass cell door.

Bill Daniels, who's a former police doctor and Auckland GP, says aggressive prisoners should be put on a 15-minute watch by officers, who can then recall a doctor once it is safe to go into a cell.

Dr Daniels says seemingly drunken behaviour can mask a serious medical condition: some people who appear to be drunk can be hypoglycaemic, have mental health problems, or have a bleed in their head or poison in their system.

"The difficulty here is that the streets are awash with drunk young people these days. The police protocols are good,

the police doctors' training is very good, but you always get a case where someone slips through the cracks because of the sheer tsunami of drunk young people coming through."

Police won't yet say whether, in hindsight, they would have done anything differently in the hours leading to the man's death. They say they had arrested him for breaching the peace early on Sunday, and put him in the Manukau station cells to sober up. He was found about four hours later with breathing difficulties, and could not be resuscitated.

Superintendent John Tims says toxicology results from a post-mortem will be received in two weeks.

He says police have highly trained custody staff who are focused on keeping people safe, and he will not comment further until investigations into the death are finished.