Canadian alcohol deaths on the increase

Sep 10, 2019

New research carried out by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) demonstrates that alcohol-related hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise, with 10 Canadians dying in hospitals every day due to harm from substance use, with 75% of these deaths directly related to alcohol use. 

The data also reveals that alcohol contributes to more than half of all hospitalizations linked to substance use, which are also up to 13 times more common than opioid-related hospitalizations.

In his interview with CBC News, Adam Sherk, a researcher at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, said that data from another research study carried out last year has demonstrated that economic costs associated with alcohol use are 10 times higher than those related to opioid use, and are also associated with criminal justice issues, decreases in productivity, and health issues.

“Ethanol, which is pure alcohol, is classified by the World Health Organization as a group one carcinogen. We would recommend policies that tend to drive down the amount of alcohol used by the population, basically the opposite of what Ontario is doing… No one’s arguing for prohibition. We just want to make it so that it’s less culturally available and to drive down the consumption.”

Adam Sherk, researcher at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research

Recently, the Ontario conservative government has attempted to decrease the province’s control of alcohol sales and make its sale legal at corner stores. According to Robert Gibson, a spokesman for Ontario Finance Minister Victor Fedeli, the Ontario government will continue its collaboration with safety and public health groups to promote responsible alcohol consumption and sale.

“We want to ensure any proposed improvements would uphold the health and safety of our communities and our roads,” said Gibson. Further, he added that an appointed advisor to the province will collaborate with retailers, alcohol beverage manufacturers and public health agencies to make sure that decreasing regulations around the sale and consumption of alcohol will not lead to “increased social costs related to alcohol.”

An addictions specialist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Dr. Keith Ahamad, told CTV News that medical research has demonstrated the association between alcohol pricing and accessibility and the harms associated with its elevated consumption, in addition to other negative consequences for the individual consuming alcohol. 

According to Ahamad, approximately 30 to 40% of individuals who fatally overdose in B.C. also test positive for alcohol use, which has been steadily increasing.

“It’s been historically difficult to know who is going to be at high risk and who is not so we’ve kind of lumped everyone together and asked them to go to detox facilities and use medications like benzodiazepines, which are not only addictive but also risky when consumed with alcohol… It’s alcohol that is their drug of choice and they’re drinking alcohol daily and using opioids intermittently and we’re doing nothing for their alcohol-use disorder,” he said.

When discussing the effects of privatization of alcohol sales on alcohol-related hospitalizations in recent decades, Ahamad said, “It’s a recipe for disaster.” The data from CIHI shows that from 2017 to 2018, there were 249 alcohol-related hospitalizations in Canada every day per 100,000 people, compared to 241 hospitalizations from 2015 to 2016.