THE tragic death of 13-year-old Welsh teenager Alexandro Antonopoulos in Minorca last week apparently from the effects of excess alcohol has served, not only to highlight the dangers of under-age binge drinking, but also brought to light the growing number of cases the Balearics emergency services are having to deal with.
While the police await the final results of the blood test before confirming the cause of the Bridgend boy's death, the sharp increases in binge-drinking related emergencies over the summer has apparently caused serious complications for the 061 emergency ambulance service in Majorca and Ibiza.
061 emergency service manager Dolores Riart, admitted yesterday that alcohol-related incidents this summer have slowed down the service's response times.
She said that not only does the number of binge drinking cases rise over the summer, it reaches its peak on the weekends.
She said that while there have been 137 documented cases this year, the problem is much more serious than it appears. Many of the cases are not always logged in because they are not handled by paramedics, but treated by ambulance staff as the patients are rushed to hospital.
She said that the 137 cases recorded between January 1 and August 17, is much less that the number of emergency calls relating to excess alcohol cases the 061 emergency number has handled. Riart explained that all alcohol related cases are treated as serious emergencies.
She explained yesterday that when the calls are received, it is always very hard to gauge just how serious the problem is until emergency teams are at the scene. So every case is an emergency, she said.
However, while 061 emergency call centre staff try to determine which cases are emergencies and which are not, in order to make sure that the most serious cases receive immediate assistance, excess alcohol cases are given immediate emergency status.
She said that on the weekend, in particular Saturdays, the number of cases doubles and leads to a back-log of emergencies to be dealt with.
What is more, she said that emergency calls relating to cases in public always warrant urgent response because of the social implications involved with not dealing with them rapidly.
In Majorca, the black spots are Arenal, Magalluf and Peguera. In Ibiza, the problem is island wide, although more common in the holiday resorts. However, 76 percent of excess alcohol cases are reported in Majorca. In most cases, the problems are caused by people mixing alcohol and drugs. Riart believes that the problem needs to be dealt with in two phases. While the government and local authorities need to alert the public to the dangers involved with binge drinking, drug and alcohol abuse, she would like to see the government encouraging the club and bar owners to be more socially aware. She suggests they offer a different kind of entertainment in an attempt to try and get people to behave more sensibly and responsible. Also to become aware that, in order to have a good time, you do not have to push yourselves to the very limits and end up in hospital from overdoing it.
The Minorca incident has also highlighted the irresponsibility of certain outlets which are selling alcohol to under-age drinkers in resorts.
The Minorcan authorities and the Guardia Civil were quick to launch an investigation into how the 13-year-old Welsh boy and his under-age friends managed to get hold of the alcohol. The implications are expected to be more widespread with a fresh crackdown on the sale of alcohol to under-age drinkers being launched across the Balearics.
The local authorities in Majorca have recently launched a fresh drive to enforce the ban on drinking in public places. This is an increasingly popular weekend practice which attracts and encourages under-age drinkers who otherwise would be denied access to clubs and cannot afford the steep bar prices.