Two years after the government first announced its plans to create a national strategy to battle alcohol dependence and its related illnesses, concerns have arisen that this plan is being brushed aside in the wake of the opioid crisis and the upcoming legalization of cannabis.
In the last ten years, Ontario has increased the availability of alcohol by 22%, with 300 of the planned 450 grocery store outlets now licensed to sell wine, beer, and cider. Once all 450 grocery store outlets are actively selling alcohol, the availability of alcohol will have risen a total of 30% in little more than a decade.
In addition to the availability of alcohol in grocery stores, on-site brewery retailers have tripled since 2013, farmers’ markets wine and cider stands have grown exponentially, and the LCBO’s online sales presence has allowed an even greater ease and access to a wide variety of alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol is a leading risk factor for chronic disease, disability, and death, and is a major contributor to social disorders, injuries, violence, and crime.
Every day in Ontario, 66 people are hospitalized for alcohol-related illnesses and conditions like alcohol poisoning, alcohol dependence, and liver disease. Nationally, that daily statistic spikes to 212. The Canadian Institute for Health Information has reported that more people are hospitalized each year for alcohol than for heart attacks. More than $5 billion is spent annually in Ontario for alcohol-related health care and law enforcement, though this should come as no surprise since 25% of Canadians participate in high risk drinking, and one in ten of that percentage admit to binge drinking every week.
Critics of the government’s treatment of alcohol-related problems have suggested that the way forward should include the implementation of a provincially funded, effective and clear strategy to support education and awareness and to change attitudes about alcohol consumption and its effects, as well as strengthened policy measures proven to minimize harm and the creation of a better monitoring system to track alcohol-related crime.