Saskatchewan is ignoring proven solutions to its alcohol problem, a local physician says.
Dr. Peter Butt says that's part of the reason Saskatchewan has the second highest rate of alcohol-related hospitalizations in Canada.
At 345 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in 2015-16, Saskatchewan's rate trails only British Columbia (349) among provinces, reports a study released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Butt says many provinces have a comprehensive alcohol strategy. Saskatchewan does not.
He says Saskatchewan needs to control the availability of alcohol, not expand it. The province also needs to offer more treatment options, to cover anti-craving medicines and do more public education.
"We've got some really simple interventions that have been proven to be helpful that are just waiting for more concerted attention with regards to alcohol in the province," Butt said.
These and other measures would pay for themselves many times over, he added. They would also prevent the damaging effects on families and communities.
Saskatchewan Medical Association president Dr. Joanne Sivertson agrees public education is vital.
"We need to raise the awareness in the general public. I think people aren't always aware of what the recommendations are for how much alcohol is considered low-risk," said Sivertson, a Prince Albert, Sask., obstetrician/gynecologist.
Sivertson said women should not be consuming more than 10 drinks per week, and men no more than 15.
Rates higher in rural, remote areas
Geoff Hynes, manager of the Canadian Population Health Initiative for the Canadian Institute for Health Information, noted the rates of alcohol-related hospitalizations are far higher in rural and remote areas.
The rate of more than 1,400 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the northern Saskatchewan health region of Mamawetan Churchill River is more than seven times higher than that in the Saskatoon Health Region (193), according to the institute.
Rates are also far higher in poor neighbourhoods.
"It really relates to … what kinds of services and supports are available for people at risk of alcohol harm in the community," Hynes said.
"This is a preventable condition with the right treatment and supports."
'There are a lot of things we're doing': gov't
Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority spokesperson David Morris said the government is "committed to the responsible consumption" of alcohol.
He said SLGA was the first in Canada to implement minimum pricing in retail stores and in bars and restaurants. There's also mandatory "server intervention training" for workers dealing with alcohol.
"There are a lot of things we're doing," Morris said.
Kathy Willerth, director of mental health and addiction for the provincial government, added that Saskatchewan has expanded access to brief detox programming in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.
She said there are now alcohol services in all health authorities across the province. She encouraged anyone concerned to reach out.
As for a provincial strategy, it's part of the recommendations in a recent action plan, but Willerth said it's unclear when it might be developed.
Few people chatting with docs about alcohol, study finds
Saskatchewan's overall alcohol sales and consumption rates were not much different from the national average.
However, Saskatchewan had the lowest percentage of people who have talked to their doctors or other health workers about alcohol use.
According to the study, more people are now hospitalized for alcohol than for heart attacks.
The leading alcohol-related causes of hospitalization are chronic alcohol use, alcohol withdrawal, harmful alcohol use and cirrhosis of the liver.
Butt said the scope of the problem is much greater. The study didn't include all of the indirect causes of alcohol-related hospitalization, such as drunk driving and certain cancers, like breast and intestinal.