Changing the legal age for purchasing alcohol would not have saved the life of a boy who drank himself to death at the weekend, Prime Minister John Key says.

An upset mother and doctor wrote to Mr Key asking him to do more to stop young people drinking themselves to death.

Dr Margaret Abercrombie and Mr Key both have sons at King's College in Auckland, where 16-year-old student James Webster appeared to drink himself to death during the weekend, sculling the best part of a bottle of vodka outside a birthday party.

In a letter to Mr Key, Dr Abercrombie said the Government needed to take action to stop the youth drinking culture from claiming more lives.

Dr Abercrombie told the New Zealand Herald her 13-year-old son at King's faced pressures from schoolmates to drink. They drank until they vomited, which sometimes saved their lives.

Mr Key told reporters it was "a tremendous tragedy and my sympathies goes to the Webster family and to the wider King's family."

However, he noted that it was illegal for James to purchase the alcohol he obtained and changing the law would not have made a difference.

"Clearly the Government and Parliament in general is considering the Law Commission's recommendations. But it is worth noting, in this particular instance I can't tell you whether alcohol was the factor that hasn't been determined, but this young boy was 16 years of age, that would have no impact in terms of raising the drinking age which is currently 18. He's below the drinking age."

He understood the concerns being directed at the Government.

"I think people look to the Government for leadership and that's wholly appropriate but I think as a country we need to try and embrace these issues and do the best that we can. I think we've also got to acknowledge that parents of teenagers have a very difficult job and it's not easy, youngsters will always make mistakes."

A Law Commission report on alcohol is being considered by the Government which includes lifting the drinking age, opening hours and access to alcohol.

- NZPA