Strategy revealed to address alcohol 'crisis' in Prince Albert, Sask.

Groups in Prince Albert have created a strategy to address the high crime levels and health implications linked to heavy alcohol consumption in the city and surrounding community.

Plan seeks solution for high levels of youth binge drinking, alcohol-related arrests

The community of Prince Albert has created a strategy to deal with alcohol misuse, which it says is at crisis level. (Shutterstock)

The community of Prince Albert, Sask., is taking steps to address what's being called an alcohol 'crisis' in the area.

A new strategy was unveiled Tuesday for the city and surrounding area, which has a population of about 78,000, towards responsible alcohol consumption and a healthy lifestyle.

According to the document released Tuesday "it is apparent that concern exists regarding the harmful effects of alcohol in our community and area. The data collected, warrants that concern." 

The plan came after two and half years of data gathering from Prince Albert groups such as Community Mobilization Prince Albert and the Centre of Responsibility. 

The groups gathered information on impaired driving, underage drinking, binge drinking, chronic alcoholism and liquor law compliance from about 120 community members. 

The research found that the area around Prince Albert has a culture of tolerance towards alcohol misuse.

Not only does the misuse have health effects, but it's also affecting relationships, violence and child safety, the study found. 

Cause for concern

Much of the data collected by the two groups shows higher than usual levels of alcohol-related crime. 

The Centre of Responsibility found between May 2009 to May 2012, more than $2.5 million of the city's police service budget was being consumed by arresting and lodging people for public intoxication. 

In that time, 5,595 people were arrested, 552 of them youth. The number of youth being arrested for public intoxication has risen since then. 

The amount of violent crime related to alcohol or drug abuse was found to be a concern as well. From 2010 to 2012, police found 37.5 per cent of violent crimes was related to alcohol or drug abuse. 

Data collected also found disturbing trends between youth and alcohol. 

In a recent survey conducted by the group, 67.9 per cent of Grade 10 students from Prince Albert said they binge drink. The Canadian results were nearly 20 percentage points lower at 49.4 per cent. 

People spend more money on average on alcohol every year in Prince Albert than other Saskatchewan communities. (Prince Albert and Area Community Alcohol Strategy)

The study found that by age 16, 54 per cent of youth surveyed had binged on alcohol. 

The statistics showed the city's residents are spending more on alcohol than other places as well. The average Prince Albert resident spent $1,249 each on alcohol in 2011. The provincial average is $703 per person. 

Impaired driving is another major issue the strategy is looking to address. Almost half of the 22,876 reported drunk driving incidents the RCMP recorded over a three-year period occurred north of the area of Rosthern, Sask., which has significantly fewer people than the south. 

Creating a solution

The document lays out a strategy to reduce harm to families and individuals from alcohol by 2019. 

This will be achieved through a multi-step process that includes holding alcohol-free events, improved education about alcohol for children and youth, new legislation, community support programs and more. 

The report also identifies a need for a full-time liquor inspector in the community, to look over the city's 50 licensed establishments and licensed community events. 

Right now the current inspector covers half of Saskatoon and an area northeast of Saskatoon extending to Prince Albert. 

"With such a large geographic area to oversee liquor compliance, inspections are inconsistent which creates diminished accountability for business owners of licensed premises and an increased potential for problem premises to arise within communities," the report reads. 

The report will be undergoing two community consultations at the Prince Albert Exhibition Centre, on May 5 and 12 at 6:30 p.m.

The group behind the strategy says input from the consultations will be included in the updated version.