THUNDER BAY – HEALTH – Northern communities and drinking, sadly seem to go hand in hand. In Ontario, alcohol consumption is the second leading cause of death, disease and disability. The impact on health across the region is severe. Thunder Bay Police and the Ontario Provincial Police have reported increases in the number of charges for impaired driving over the past several years.
Over the past two weeks, Thunder Bay Police have responded to 183 Calls for Service. Eighty-Four of those calls were Quality of Life Calls. Quality of Life calls are commonly alcohol or drug related.
Alcohol Related Crime Chews Up Police Resources
The report states, “Alcohol related crime utilizes a large majority of our police resources, and is a constant battle for officers in our area. This takes away from all other crimes that are in need attention in our community. Along with this, injuries sustained due to intoxication take up many beds in our hospitals and emergency departments.”
“Compared to the rest of the province, the evidence show us that residents of Northwestern Ontario are less likely to follow the low-risk drinking guidelines, are more likely drink heavily, and are more likely to end up in the hospital because of alcohol misuse,” shares Dr. Kit Young-Hoon, Medical Officer of Health for the NWHU.
Alcohol is seen as one of the major contributing factors to the social issues in our communities such as homelessness, poverty, and unemployment. 34.4% of community members and 39.6% of partners mentioned social issues in their response. However, several respondents felt that as a society, we have failed to provide the basic necessities for people, citing a lack of housing and health care as the root cause.
Alcohol consumption results in substantial health and social costs to individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole.
Net Cost of Alcohol is Massive to Taxpayers
Recent changes from the provincial government have led to increased access to alcohol in communities. Government is looking to increased tax revenue from alcohol sales.
However it appears that the opposite could be resulting. Currently, the province receives $3 billion in dividends and taxation from alcohol sales, but the cost to taxpayers is estimated to be $5.3 billion. This is a significant yearly loss. In Canada this amounts to an estimated $473 cost per year for each and every Canadian due to alcohol (OPHA, 2015).
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the economic cost of alcohol related harm across Canada is $14.6 billion per year. These costs include $7.1 billion for lost productivity owing to illness and premature death, $3.3 billion for direct health care costs and $3.1 billion for enforcement costs (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2016).
Drinking Hard on Families Too
The impact of excessive consumption of alcohol has a toll on families too.
The health unit says, “Children grow up watching their parents consume alcohol and form the perception that alcohol is required to have a good time. Several respondents also noted that it is not unusual for parents to supply their underage children with alcohol”.
“28.6% of partners felt that people in their community are not able to take care of their own children due to alcoholism. This leads to children being removed from the family home and placed in foster care, resulting in families not being able to function as a unit”.
The Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) are shining a light on beverage consumption with the release of the report Alcohol in Our Communities: A Report on Alcohol Use in Northwestern Ontario. The report takes a look at impacts and health harms of alcohol misuse in our region, shares feedback received from community members and local organizations, and makes recommendations for moving forward to address alcohol misuse in Northwestern Ontario.
“Fortunately there are things that we can do as individuals and as a community to promote drinking within healthy guidelines, and make drinking in moderation the new norm for our region,” say Dr. Young-Hoon, “We look forward to working alongside agencies and municipalities, to promote a culture of moderate alcohol consumption using tools like community education and policy development to create a supportive environment.”