Monday January 06, 2014

Harm Reduction vs. Abstinence: Is it OK to give an alcoholic a drink?

Is it ever OK to give alcohol to alcoholics? Some people think harm reduction has gone too far because of projects like the one in Amsterdam giving alcohol to alcoholics to work ... but others believe it's innovative help. <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/greencolander/378956870'>Greencolander</a>

Is it ever OK to give alcohol to alcoholics? Some people think harm reduction has gone too far because of projects like the one in Amsterdam giving alcohol to alcoholics to work ... but others believe it's innovative help. Greencolander

Listen 27:30

A project in Amsterdam is trying to help chronic alcoholics, giving them a routine and a few drinks. There are new thoughts on treating chronic alcoholism, helping people who have failed so often .. not by forcing them to abstain but by helping them regulate their drinking. We share their stories and debate the treatment.

'We start between 9:00 and 9:15. They get per day, half a package of rolling tobacco, 5 beers and ten Euros.' - Janet van de Noord, runs the Rainbow Group's litter project in Amsterdam

There's a large park in eastern Amsterdam that's a frequent gathering spot for a group of alcoholics who subject locals to stories, songs and litter... day and night. But instead of pushing them out, the municipality, along with a local community group has offered about 20 of them a job cleaning up the park.

Though the compensation is something some may find a little unorthodox. Freelance journalist Anik See paid a visit to see how the clean-up crew operates and prepared a documentary.

Amsterdam isn't the only place where they are dispensing drinks to people with alcohol abuse problems. In Canada, some chronic drinkers are eligible to take part in "managed-alcohol programs" -- known as MAPs --- in which they are served wine, beer or spirits as part of their treatment.

Wesley Delorme hopes to break his alcohol addiction through the MAP program

Find out more about Wesley Delorme's story

Bernie Pauly has studied the impact of these programs. She's an associate professor with the University of Victoria's School of Nursing and a scientist with the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia. Bernie Pauly was in Victoria.

Doctor Mark Weiss is the medical director of Bellwood Health Services in Toronto. It's a residential, abstinence-based treatment facility for people with addictions.

What do you think of Amsterdam's program to compensate alcoholics with alcohol? Share your thoughts on this issue.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins and Naheed Mustafa.

Coming up on The Current

Godelieva De Troyer

Tom Moritmer's mother, Godelieva De Troyer in 2010, almost 2 years before she was euthanized by legal injection.

For the first time in Canada, Quebec is considering a bill that would allow medical professionals to help a person end their life. The bill is similar in some ways to the law in Belgium.

We'll speak with a Belgian physician who has helped many patients die.

And we'll also hear from Tom Mortier. He was shocked that his mother found a doctor to end her life... this after she struggled with depression for decades. He says that's a sign Belgium's law doesn't work for everyone.

Tom Mortier gets the last word today.