Lots of alcohol, little treatment

The Yukon is a lush. And every year it's getting worse. On December 23rd, the Whitehorse liquor store sold $191,000 worth of booze.

The Yukon is a lush.

And every year it’s getting worse.

On December 23rd, the Whitehorse liquor store sold $191,000 worth of booze.

Christmas Eve was almost as lucrative, at $163,000. And New Year’s Eve was the runner-up at $144,000.

In just three days, that’s half a million dollars worth of alcohol.

People are either drinking more or celebrating more, said liquor store manager Kevin Murphy.

The liquor store broke records this year, with sales up 10 per cent. Assuming the price of alcohol has gone up two or three per cent, that’s still a seven per cent jump in consumption, he said.

Murphy has been working at the store for 31 years, and it’s not always easy.

“I see some of the effects from the people that are definitely hooked on it,” he said. “You see them every day.

“And you can see in a very physical sense, what it can do to people – the way they change and age.

“You can’t say for sure it’s directly related to what you retail, but you can see the change in some people.”

It’s hard, admitted Murphy.

“But that’s just part of the overall picture of this industry,” he said.

“I think when you work in the industry long enough, you get a little bit desensitized.”

When Murphy’s regulars suddenly disappear he’s never sure if they’ve moved, had health problems or gone to treatment.

But given the territory’s slim addiction-treatment options, Murphy doesn’t have to worry about losing too many customers.

Alcohol and Drug Services runs nine 28-day treatment programs a year at Sarah Steele.

Each program can accommodate 12 clients, and women and men’s programs run alternately, with a two-week break between programs.

A quick call to Alcohol and Drug Services on Thursday found the next women’s program doesn’t start until March 21st.

The next men’s program begins February 7th.

“And they’re always full,” said the receptionist.

Yukon government workers have it a little easier.

If they need to dry out, they can approach the Public Service Commission.

There are two doctors, specializing in addictions, contracted by the Yukon government to assess its employees. Both doctors are in the Greater Vancouver area.

After the initial assessment, treatment is done locally, or through Outside facilities.

Right now, there are 17 employees in the program. Of those, 14 are getting treatment Outside.

It’s costing the territory more than $120,000 a year.

Addicts who aren’t working for government can get in line at Alcohol and Drug Services, often heading over to see Murphy at the liquor store while they wait.

And even addicts who do manage to finish the four-week program often end up back at Murphy’s counter, because there’s no transition housing available after the program ends.

“The aftercare component is absolutely vital,” said Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse research and policy analyst Rebecca Jesseman, from Ottawa.

“In fact, many people argue the aftercare is more important than the 30-day treatment itself.”

The four-week programming offered by Alcohol and Drug Services is important, said Jesseman.

But in the long term, what really makes or breaks success is whether that person is able to reintegrate into the community with whatever changes or lessons they learned, she said.

“So it’s really that aftercare component that is vital for long-term success.”

The only aftercare available at Alcohol and Drug Services is one-on-one counselling after the 28-day program ends.

For clients returning to communities outside Whitehorse, that counselling takes place over the phone.

But substance abuse can’t be isolated, said Jesseman.

“Usually when there’s a substance-use difficulty there’s also difficulties throughout the rest of the person’s life,” she said, citing mental health issues, family issues, housing, education and finances.

“And if you’re only looking at a very limited range of options for residents in the Yukon, then you’re not going to be meeting their variety of needs.”

That’s where aftercare comes in, said Jesseman.

The territory needs a comprehensive, community-based aftercare system that sees mental health officials working with social workers, doctors, counsellors, family support workers, housing groups, financial planners and sometimes the criminal justice system.

“It’s a wrap-around service,” she said.

The problem is money.

“When you get into that comprehensive, team approach, funding is always an issue,” said Jesseman. “Because, whose budget does it come out of if we’re all working together?”

Ideally, it should be on everybody’s budget, she said.

“Because if an individual returns to a community and returns to their previous situation and a relapse occurs, then the economic draw on mental health services, social services, emergency services and the criminal justice system is huge.

“So if we don’t work together in a preventative fashion, it’s going to mean more of a draw on all of us in the long term.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at