The extreme binge drinking associated with the social media game, ‘Neknominations', will ‘likely lead to more deaths', doctors have warned.
During the game, which has been played worldwide, people are nominated to drink large amounts of alcohol quickly. They film themselves doing this, post it online and then nominate others to do the same.
However, the game has been linked to two recent deaths in Ireland - Ross Cummins, a 22-year-old from Dublin whose body was found by friends on Saturday morning, and Jonny Byrne, a 19-year-old from Carlow, who is thought to have been playing the game before he jumped into a river and drowned early on Sunday.
"We are greatly saddened by the recent deaths associated with excessive drinking fuelled by the social media phenomenon called Neknomination. The loss of a young person is tragic, never more so when it is completely avoidable. Sadly this extreme binge drinking will likely lead to more deaths," commented Prof Frank Murray of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI).
He insisted that the example set in Irish society when it comes to alcohol ‘does not encourage safe consumption'.
"Widespread availability of cheap alcohol, slick advertising campaigns and promotion of alcohol via social media are part of the problem. As doctors, we regularly see the terrible harm caused by the wide scale availability of strong, cheap alcohol. These deaths highlight once again the destructive nature of alcohol and action to address this issue is needed urgently," Prof Murray said.
He noted that the RCPI supports the Government's proposal to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol, but added that this proposal needs to be introduced now.
"Action on availability is also necessary. Alcohol can be purchased anywhere. This feeds into the normalisation of binge drinking and allows unrestricted consumption of alcohol. Where once people drank mainly in bars where there was some level of control, now, especially for young people, much more alcohol is consumed at home or at parties. Risky behaviours of pre-drinking and games such as the one responsible for these deaths are widespread," Prof Murray said.
Meanwhile, according to Paul Gilligan, CEO of St Patrick's Mental Health Services, young people need to be educated on both the short and long-term effects of alcohol consumption, particularly binge drinking.
"Young adulthood is a difficult and challenging time for many people. External pressures from peers can leave many young people feeling vulnerable and exposed. In this age of viral social media we have an urgent responsibility to educate young people to ensure they have the knowledge and confidence to identify dangerous alcohol-related behaviour and to stop such trends before they begin," Mr Gilligan commented.
The Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, has said it would be ‘helpful' if Facebook took down any ‘Neknominate' pages. Meanwhile, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, has also expressed serious concern about the game.
"Young people take their cues from our broader society's general attitude to drinking, and the popularity of ‘Neknominations' shows we still have a long way to go in developing a healthy societal attitude to the consumption of alcohol.
"Rather than focus solely on the symptoms, we must work together to tackle the cause, and I echo the very sensible calls by Irish youth organisations and alcohol awareness groups to find effective ways to change our alcohol consumption patterns," she said.