The B.C. Coroners Service links fentanyl to 60 per cent of these deaths. Blame falls easily — and cruelly — both on users of illegal street drugs and on dealers increasing profit margins by adulterating street drugs with the powerful synthetic opioid.

Without diminishing either the seriousness of a black market or the ethical void that places profit before the well-being and safety of unwitting customers, let’s not lose sight of another significant drug problem — one in which the biggest dealers are you and me.

I refer to alcohol, the biggest pusher of which is our provincial government.

Is it fair to call government a pusher? Yes. Government — that’s us — controls liquor supply, potency, pricing — and is increasing market accessibility for what is indisputably a dangerous, mind-altering drug.

Barbershops, bookstores, health spas are now to join grocery stores as purveyors of alcohol. There are many rationalizations — “modernizing” liquor laws being one.

Let’s be clear. Even though we love it, alcohol is not benign.

Each year, eight in 10 Canadians consumes alcohol; more than four million in quantities that risk chronic health effects like cirrhosis of the liver. More than three million drink enough to risk immediate injury.

Alcohol is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. Among psychoactive drugs, alcohol-related disorders lead hospitalizations.

Since 1999, about two million Canadians have been injured in alcohol-related traffic accidents. About 13,000 people were killed. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control says Canada ranks worst for alcohol-related road deaths. Thirty-four per cent of traffic deaths in Canada are linked to alcohol impairment. This tops the 19 most developed nations.

The B.C. government — that’s us, again — rakes in more than $1.5 billion a year from both liquor profits and alcohol consumption taxes.

Yet the most recent comprehensive research, completed in 2002, shows alcohol-related harm costs Canadians $14.6 billion a year, more than half for lost productivity due to disability and premature death.

Between 2006 and 2011, the rate per 100,000 population for hospital events where alcohol was the primary source of a behavioural or mental disorder increased by more than 8.5 per cent. Alcohol abuse comprised 56 per cent of all hospital discharges or deaths related to substance abuse in 2011.

Liver cancer is now one of most rapidly increasing cancers in Canada. Alcohol abuse is associated with higher risk of liver cancer. Increasing alcohol consumption is the suspected link.

In B.C., hospitalization rates per 100,000 population directly attributable to alcohol increased by 21 per cent between 2002 and 2011.

Not everyone is an alcohol abuser, of course. It’s estimated that in Canada about 20 per cent of users consume about 70 per cent of alcohol by volume. In B.C., about 17.6 per cent of alcohol users exceed the low-risk threshold.

Of more concern, perhaps, alcohol abuse occurs disproportionately among the young. A 2008 survey of schools on Vancouver Island found 16 per cent of children under 15 admitted binge drinking in the previous month. This proportion jumped to 44.5 per cent among older students. One in five university students engages in risky alcohol use — that’s consuming four drinks or more at a sitting. More alarmingly, 75 per cent of school children using alcohol began before they were 15.

The pattern recurs in drowning fatalities. Forty per cent of drownings while boating and 31 per cent of drownings while swimming involve alcohol. For victims ages 15 to 19, alcohol was a factor in 41 per cent of drownings and for those ages 20 to 34 in 51 per cent.

We know from extensive research, however, that for every 10 per cent increase in the price for alcoholic beverages there’s a concurrent 32 per cent fall in alcohol-associated deaths. Who sets price? We do, through government. Who complains loudest about price? Users. Us.

So, let us by all means address this dreadful fentanyl crisis thoughtfully and aggressively.

But, please, let’s stop moralizing and demonizing illegal recreational street drug users while we sell, promote and turn a blind eye to another dangerous drug, justifying our actions with the self-serving fiction that because we arbitrarily make alcohol legal, it must be OK.

Source: Vancouver Sun


Last updated on: 2016-12-28 | Link to this post