By Chris Marchand
“Where is everybody?”
The ongoing effort to spur a shift in local and regional cultural ties to alcohol appeared to be facing an uphill battle, Thursday, as just 43 people — many of whom already involved in the cause — showed up for a pre-graduation season visit from the Regional Coroner and the Northwest’s Medical Officer of Health.
Regional Supervising Coroner Dr. Robert Wilson delivered a sobering presentation on a variety of case studies of alcohol-related trauma causing death, from impaired driving, to alcohol poisoning, to drowning, to suicide and homicide.
Wilson challenged many of the basic assumptions that are entrenched in our culture around alcohol — that alcohol adds fun, and that youth can benefit from supervised use of alcohol while still underage.
“There’s this idea that you can somehow inoculate them,” said Wilson. “People tell anecdotal stories about that one kid they knew in university whose parents never let him drink — he was the biggest drinker in university. These anecdotal stories don’t prove anything. What has been demonstrated is the contrary — that earlier exposure to alcohol leads to greater addiction and greater problems with alcohol later.”
Wilson’s presentation demonstrated how even relatively moderate alcohol use elevates risk of trauma or death by several orders of magnitude, particularly for youth.
“My advice to you, your kids or your grandkids is, ‘don’t drink underage’,” said Wilson. “You do not have to give your kids alcohol, they will survive childhood just fine without it. Don’t drink to get drunk — take this one even more seriously. Have some safety rules: don’t drive after drinking and don’t get into a vehicle with a drinking driver. Most importantly, look out for your friends.”
Northwestern Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kit Young Hoon commented on alarming data that places 60 per cent of Northwestern Ontario residents above and beyond Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines (10 drinks per week, 2 per day for women; 15 drinks per week, 3 per day for men). Provincial statistics show that around 30 per cent of high school students have binge-drank in the past month, in the Northwest that figure is over 50 per cent.
“For emergency room visits due to alcohol, we are six times worse than the rest of the province,” said Young Hoon. “This is impacting our health care system and we all know how vulnerable our health care system is in providing the care that we need for everybody in the community.”
The group heard from Drew, a 23 year-old local man who is dealing with the consequences of multiple impaired driving charges, which have derailed his career path and forced him to come to terms with his destructive relationship with alcohol.
Dryden Area Impaired Reduction Strategy’s Michelle Teeple, also a parent and an Ontario Provincial Police Officer, says if alcohol disappeared from Dryden tomorrow, she’d likely be out of a job.
“When you peel back the numbers, between 2013, 2014, and 2015 there was an steady rise in the number of impaired arrests we did,” said Teeple. “Outside of our area, impaired numbers stay relatively the same, while the Dryden area was up 52 per cent. Collisions where alcohol was a factor: the province was up 33 per cent, the region was up 90 per cent and in the Dryden area they were up 129 per cent.”