In the next couple of days, Dr. Bruce Beaton and James Allen are expected to deliver their report on chronic inebriants.
We hope they recommend some sort of medical detox facility in their final document.
The task force has been studying the issue of hardcore addicts for months.
And, in that time, the territory’s perception of the problem has changed.
Today, there is support for a medical detox centre, and that support is growing.
It would be a place where the town’s addicts can find shelter, assistance and a little tipple to help them through the night.
The model was launched in Ottawa by Dr. Jeff Turnbull.
The approach appears counterintuitive, but it works.
Basically, you give the clients some alcohol. This actually “lessens the craziness,” in Turnbull’s words, and improves the health of the community and its addicts.
It also saves the community a ton of money.
Well, in Ottawa, as here, the medical community sees a bunch of regulars.
These are people without homes and incomes who are suffering from crippling addictions.
They also often have medical problems that rarely get treated because of their lifestyle. And those infections and illnesses frequently land them in hospital.
Each of these patients can cost the medical system as much as $225,000 a year, according to Turnbull.
Locally, some of them are using the hospital 20 times a month.
They take up needed beds and tax the staff. But, chasing their addiction, they often sign themselves out before they are better.
Doctors may prescribe antibiotics or other medicines, but there’s little hope the addict will take the pills properly. In many cases, they can’t even afford to pay for the medicine – it eats up their booze cash.
They hit the street and get drunk. The illness gets bad again. They wind up in hospital.
The cycle continues.
Touring the capital’s shelters, Turnbull found them overcrowded, much like Whitehorse’s.
The addicts would binge in the afternoon, stagger to the shelter at night and then wake up at around 4 a.m. with a compulsion to feed their addiction. So they’d hit the local grocery for some Listerine and the craziness would begin anew.
It wasn’t good for the city. Or the alcoholics.
So Turnbull tried something controversial. He started giving them a few ounces of alcohol every hour.
And the craziness stopped.
Because the addicts weren’t staggering through the streets trying to scare up spare change. And while hanging around the medical detox facility, they were receiving a measured ration in a monitored facility so they were actually drinking less.
Cops and business leaders, who were initially skeptical, quickly saw the benefits and signed on.
And the city’s health-care system saved about $3.5 million a year.
Over time, the staff – counsellors, psychologists, doctors, nurses and even veterinarians (for these people’s pets) – developed trust with their clients. More serious maladies were treated and community health improved.
Whitehorse needs a similar solution.
Rao Tadapelli has suggested the old Canadian Tire building on Fourth Avenue would be an ideal site for a medical detox centre. It could include a community kitchen, medical and nursing facilities and even counsellors.
It’s a good idea.
That central location is key. You don’t want such a facility stuck out in the boonies where the clients won’t visit. It must be downtown.
There is currently no co-ordinated approach to these people. They get shunted from police to ambulance to emergency and then onto taxi drivers and, eventually, city streets where, all too often, they die.
Society doesn’t mark these deaths. Often it is only the doctors, ambulance staff and police who register the loss of one of these so-called regulars.
And then they’re on to the next call. Because the parade never ends.
Society can do better. Turnbull has come up with a system that improves their lives. And the community as a whole.
His approach has merit. And there’s growing support for the idea in the community.
For the betterment of the the city, and the territory, we hope Beaton and Allen’s report reflects some of these progressive solutions.