Canada: Alcohol Harm Dwarfs Opioid Crisis
Alcohol is putting more people in the hospital than heart attacks and killing more people than opioids in Canada.
From April 2017 to March 2018, there were 156,108 hospital stays in Canada for harm caused by substance use, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Alcohol caused 82,740 of those visits. Opioids were responsible for 19,279 hospital stays.
In Ontario during the same period, 50,863 hospital visits were tied to substance use. Alcohol was responsible for 26,952 them. Opioids accounted for 6,012.
Overall, both in terms of hospitalizations and mortality, alcohol is a big piece of the story and it’s responsible for the most number of hospitalizations in every province and territory. It’s something that’s quite widespread across the country,” said Kathleen Morris, CIHI’s vice-president of research and analysis, as per Windsor Star.
Deregulation of alcohol control set to further increase alcohol harm
In Ontario, addiction specialists fear the destructive effects of alcohol will get even worse with the provincial government’s loosening of evidence-based alcohol policy measures.
The provincial government has already expanded hours of sale for The Beer Store, LCBO, and licensed grocery stores to sell alcohol, increasing its availability.
The government has also announced in June 2019 it will expand alcohol sales to hundreds of new stores starting this summer, including 87 more grocery stores and more than 200 new “LCBO Convenience Outlets.”
In British Columbia the increased the privatization of alcohol also increased alcohol availability, and consequently with an increase in alcohol related mortality, according to Kolowicz, the director of adult mental health and addictions.
The more that it’s available for people, the more people you’re going to have [abuse] it and become dependent on it,” said Kolowicz, as per Windsor Star.
Prevention is better than cure
It’s an old proverb everyone has heard in their lives. However the Ontario government does not seem to think so. The province also said it will invest $1.9 billion over 10 years for mental health and addictions services. That will match an investment from the federal government for a total of $3.8 billion.
If prevention action through policy was the focus, the massive health spending on alcohol harm would significantly reduce and communities would be safer and people’s lives would be much healthier and happier.
The World Health Organization has already found several effective, evidence-based policy measures in controlling alcohol harm. They recommend the alcohol policy best buys encompassing increased taxes, increased restriction on sales and bans on advertising, promotions and sponsorship to drive down availability and affordability. Canada and its provincial governments need to incorporate these recommendations into their policies if they hope to reduce the alcohol harm in the country.
Governments need to place focus on preventing the harm, rather than just treating the harm once it’s already been done.