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Judges must take into account the risks of alcohol withdrawal, coroner says

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Dependence to the accused's alcohol was well known by the judge. (Archive photo)

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Coroner Éric Lépine recommends that judges of the Court of Quebec take health risks into account when issuing orders for non-consumption of alcohol to dependent persons, after the death of a resident of Inukjuak, in Nunavik, died suddenly following withdrawal.

The 31-year-old man lived with a heavy addiction to alcohol when he appeared in court last March.

He pleaded guilty to criminal charges and was sentenced to house arrest, with a ban on consuming alcohol.

Decided to respect his conditions, he went to live with a friend, to get away from the people around him who could have encouraged him to use.

He went there, without medical help to help him with his withdrawal, without knowing that his life could be in danger.

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More than 1,800 people live in the Inuit community of Inukjuak. (File photo)

Stopping alcohol suddenly for an addict can cause mild symptoms like tremors and discomfort, but can also lead to death in more severe cases.

The same evening after his appearance, his friend prepared dinner for him, but his tremors were so bad that he couldn't hold his plate. He said he felt good and went to rest.

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Later in the evening, his friend noticed that he was unconscious in his bed and was rushed to the local Village Community Services Center. He was pronounced dead on site.

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His death was observed at the Inukjuak dispensary on March 10. (Archive photo)

An autopsy later confirmed that he died from the consequences of acute alcohol withdrawal, to which he was dependent, we read in coroner Éric Lépine's report.

According to the coroner, it would have been preferable if the man had been medically evaluated before sentencing, to ensure that he was able to to respect his condition imposed by the judge.

His dependence on alcohol was also known by the magistrate, who had been informed of this by the defense lawyer.

During the 9 minutes of his appearance, he was shaking and was already visibly in withdrawal, according to his lawyer.

He was not questioned about his medical condition and his real ability to maintain sobriety without medical assistance, we can read in the report of the coroner.

According to him, his death could have been avoided if he had been able to benefit from medical monitoring appropriate, particularly in the first days of weaning.

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His death was avoidable according to the coroner.

The coroner therefore proposes to include the additional condition of reporting to the health center within a very short time in order to to be medically accompanied when a person is ordered to stop consuming alcohol.

He also recommends making judges and lawyers aware of the consequences of alcohol withdrawal.

Éric Lépine calls on the Barreau du Québec and the Conseil de la magistrature so that they offer professional training in this sense.

Invited to commenting on the report, the President of Quebec, Me Catherine Claveau, confirms that her teams are already working on the development of training which will be presented to its members next spring.

For Indigenous people, this means adapting our justice system to their reality, and therefore collaborating with them. All those involved in the bar, namely the prosecutors, the lawyers who work in youth protection, in private practice, we all have this concern. […] We will try to improve things as much as possible, explains Me Claveau.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116