CBC News has obtained new statistics that indicate alcohol-related visits remain a big problem for the emergency room at Whitehorse General Hospital.

The data shows the number of admissions related to intoxicated people are down slightly from a few years ago but not by much.

There were nearly 1,600 alcohol-related emergency room visits last year, down from 1,744 visits in 2009-2010.

That year the auditor general of Canada found repeat visits were part of the reason for the high number. Twenty-two people accounted for 567, or one-third, of all alcohol-related emergency room admissions. Three people were admitted 60 or more times.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation says it is unable to provide CBC with updated statistics on repeat visitors and it has refused a request for an interview on the issue.

But the Yukon Medical Association says in any case, the statistics don't reflect reality. Emergency room physician Dr. Rao Tadepalli says the actual number of alcohol-related visits is probably much higher, at about 20 to 25 per cent of all emergency room visits.


Emergency room physician Dr. Rao Tadepalli says the actual number of alcohol-related visits is probably much higher, at about 20 to 25 per cent of all emergency room visits. (CBC)

Tadepalli says patients often have multiple ailments and intoxication may not always be the dominant ailment used for tracking purposes.  

"I would say six to eight visits per day directly relate to intoxication, and some people are coming back maybe twice, thrice or maybe four times in the day," he said.

"Some people get picked up as the day progresses. They come, they're evaluated, they're discharged. They go back, they drink, they're brought back again. It's a continual circle, sometimes."

Tadepalli says emergency room care is only a bandage, and the underlying problem of addiction is not being treated. He would like to see a sobering centre or wet shelter built in the community.

"The Salvation Army wouldn't fit that because they wouldn't be able to do the monitoring detox, it's usually over-subscribed or have had them already within the 24 hours so they would be denied entry," he said.

Nor would the RCMP.

"Most of these people have addiction problems not criminal problems," he said. 

He added alcohol-related visits may have their biggest impact on others in need of medical help.

'That's not the right place for these individuals to be." - Jan Stick

"When you are sick, you want to have a healing atmosphere, and when you have some person who's not exactly behaving or has caused trouble or has taken the attention away of the nursing staff or the physicians, that's the impact that we need to be more concerned about," he said.

Last year the Yukon Government built a new secure assessment facility at the Yukon jail to safely detain and monitor intoxicated people. It also created a new referred care clinic for people with complex care needs who previously were visiting the emergency room.

But the those efforts haven't greatly reduced intoxicated visitors to the emergency room.

"People aren't in the right place to get the right treatment they need and the emergency room, we know, is the most expensive form of, not treatment, but care," says Yukon NDP health critic Jan Stick. "So that's not the right place for these individuals to be."

"I think the government is taking it seriously, Are they acting quickly enough? Are they doing all the things that could be done more economically than the emergency room? I don't think so."

The government has announced it plans to expand detox services and provide more help to the Salvation Army, but critics like the NDP say it's not acting quickly enough to deal with this critical issue.

with files from Cheryl Kawaja