La Ronge paying high economic price for excessive drinking

By Derek Cornet
December 7, 2018 - 1:44pm

Doctors agree residents of La Ronge are paying a high economic price for the heavy consumption of alcohol.

“The harms from alcohol is something most physicians see on a regular basis,” said Dr. James Irvine. “It’s been an ongoing concern for me over the years.”

Irvine has been tracking and collecting data on behalf of the Community Alcohol Management Plan (CAMP) committee since he was approached to do so in late 2016. At the time, he was the chief medical health officer for the local health region, and he said much of the data he collected makes the case for attempts to reduce alcohol consumption in the tri-communities. According to data from the emergency department at the La Ronge Health Centre, one in three visits on Saturdays involve alcohol.

When it comes to visits by patients related to self-harm, attempted suicide or assaults over the age of 16, Irvine noted 86 per cent involved alcohol as well. On average, the department receives more than 100 visits to the emergency room every month due to excessive drinking. With alcohol currently available in La Ronge as late as 3 a.m. some nights, Irvine said there should be a reduction in health costs with the decrease in access to alcohol.

“This is probably wise of the town council to only restrict things a little bit,” he said. “They’re not eliminating full days, they’re just cutting down on the number of hours. I think if we end up going to a dry situation, then we may end up having more challenges with bootlegging.”

According to RCMP data supplied from CAMP, the La Ronge RCMP are also kept busy by liquor consumption. In 2017, 40 per cent of all offense involved beverage alcohol, which included 1,303 instances of mischief, 538 major assaults and 378 instances of disturbing the peace.

Information from CAMP also claims La Ronge and area spent more than $8.2 million on alcohol in 2011 with the average resident over the age of 15 spending $1,800 per year. The provincial average for the amount spent per person is around $700. With a decrease in consumption of alcohol, Irvine believes people will begin spending the extra cash in other areas of the economy.

“I think there is a concern about what kind of impact it will have on business and employment, but I think … money will be spent within the community elsewhere,” he said. “There may be more money that gets spent on groceries, school, clothing and those types of things.”

University of Saskatchewan addiction medicine specialist, Dr. Peter Butt, also thinks the reduction of hours will be effective as it will compliment other initiatives CAMP already has underway. He said much of the issues involving alcohol is due to binge drinking and reducing hours late at night should prevent some of it.

“What you're going to see is there are fewer people who are going to go stock up after midnight,” Butt said. “Who needs beverage alcohol at 3 a.m. in the morning? They’re not stocking up in preparation for a social event or people coming over later in the week. That’s more in the moment and it’s going to contribute to the load of alcohol being consumed at those hours of the night.”

Butt also advised residents to become more familiar with Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines as it provides educational material on how to drink responsibly. He also mentioned people should be aware of other costs associated with alcohol consumption and issues in policing, corrections and the justice system. When it comes down to it, Butt said evidence shows a reduction in access to alcohol leads to a reduction in harm.

“La Ronge should be complimented for being progressive and trying to address these issues,” he said.

Data continues to be tracked by CAMP and its partners to determine the effectiveness of initiatives currently underway to reduce drinking in the tri-communities.

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Twitter: @saskjourno 

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