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'A culture of intoxication'

Nova Scotia still has a drinking problem. People in the province still drive drunk, still go on benders at bars, still drink underage and some drink while pregnant.

To combat this, last August the provincial Department of Health Promotion and Protection launched a strategy called Changing the Culture of Alcohol Use in Nova Scotia.

Almost a year later that plan is leading to some tangible efforts, but there’s been a lot of legwork to do, a provincial official says.

“We know a fair amount around what the issues are,” Carolyn Davison, director for addictions services for the Department of Health Promotion and Protection, said Wednesday. “We also know the broad things that we’d like to do to target them. It’s just helping the public and government get prepared and ready and willing to do it.”

The strategy indicates the health, social and economic costs of alcohol use in Nova Scotia are enormous: $419 million a year.

Last year was the deadliest on Nova Scotia roads in more than a decade and almost a third of 79 fatal collisions involved alcohol. The year wound up with a Christmas Eve brawl outside Halifax’s Liquor Dome that saw 38 people arrested after a cheap-drink night.

“We know there are some (policies) we should be doing around the pricing of alcohol, it’s just whether or not we can help government understand what is the best approach there,” Ms. Davison said.

A group including chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang formed after that melee to consider things like drink prices and bar advertising, hours of operation and the training of bar and security staff.

The group has made its report to government.

In the meantime, the department is working with the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia to update rules on training for servers. The province is also looking at introducing a program called Safer Bars that aims to help staff recognize and avoid potentially violent situations.

There are plans to roll out a new ad campaign on the hazardous drinking in September when masses of students return to the province. High-risk drinking is common among people aged 19 to 29. While the risks of drinking and driving ought to be no brainer, there is confusion about when and how much a person can drink safely, Ms. Davison said.

“Some people think they should drink because there are some health benefits to it,” she said. “There are some mixed messages there, but people don’t necessarily understand what the limits are. They don’t necessarily understand how in Nova Scotia we have a particular culture that seems to promote a culture of intoxication.”

Updated guidelines are expected to be released by Health Canada this summer. The strategy has provided funding to hire alcohol coordinators in five district health authorities. That’s helped districts set up programs to meet local needs, like the Making Alcohol Related Changes group in the Capital district health authority. It aims to help people control their alcohol use before it becomes an addiction and causes serious problems.

Capital Health is also the setting for another pilot project that’s meant to determine when alcohol has played a role in Nova Scotians’ traumatic injuries and help those suffering alcohol-related trauma make lifestyle changes. The provincial trauma team based at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre is summoned more than 500 times a year to care for people injured in car or ATV crashes or serious falls.

Under the pilot project those people will be tested for blood alcohol content. Those testing positive will be assessed for their willingness to accept alcohol counselling, said Paul Helwig, a clinical program manager at Capital Health.

“Sometimes when there’s such events such as this, people are more willing to look at their behaviour and take the changes necessary,” he said. “When the iron’s hot, we need to strike sometimes.”

He said this has been done on an ad hoc basis before but will be done consistently now. Patients will be able to access social workers and addictions counselling and be referred to programs in the home districts if they’re from outside Capital Health. If the program proves effective it might be used for less critical emergency department visits, many of which also involve alcohol.

“We’re not out to tell people they can’t drink,” Mr. helwig said. “We just want them to see the realization of maybe they ended up in this accident because they had too much to drink.”

All told just under $800,000 has been spent so far on projects related to the alcohol strategy.
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source: Nova Scotia News

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