Managed alcohol program set to launch in La Loche

COVID-19 continues its spread in Saskatchewan’s far north region — nine out of the 11 new cases Sunday were there. The community of La Loche has been hit particularly hard.

In response to the outbreak, the community has closed its provincial and off-sale liquor stores and they will remain closed for at least two weeks. In a previous interview, the mayor there, Robert St. Pierre, said it’s the right move.

“When you have those particular venues open, it promotes coming together, it promotes people gathering,” he said on Saturday. “We’re trying to eliminate those opportunities and I’m hoping with the closure of these two facilities that we mitigate the connection that could be made there, or the passing of the virus.” 

St. Pierre also said he wanted to make sure folks struggling with addictions in his community weren’t left behind. That’s why the community, along with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, is launching a managed alcohol program.

La Loche, Sask. Mayor Robert St. Pierre tells Saskatchewan Weekend host Peter Mills how his community is doing, changes they’re making, and how it feels to have help from others in the province. 6:43

In a statement, the health authority said they were working closely with the community to identify those who would need the program and to give other addiction supports to those people until the program was fully operational.

“This program only applies to those who need it….  The scope and length of the program is dependent upon several factors, the most significant of which is lowering the number of active COVID-19 cases in La Loche and surrounding area,” part of the statement reads. 

Longtime addictions counselor Rand Teed said programs like these can save lives. When people are physically dependent on alcohol, withdrawal can kill them, he said. According to Teed, programs like this one give the patient enough alcohol to stave off withdrawal symptoms but not enough to intoxicate.

“[Programs like this] get them engaged with care,” he said.

“Instead of them going and buying a bottle and just going off by themselves and being drunk all day, they’re now engaging with counselors and health care people who will be able to encourage them to move into treatment possibilities.”

Teed said this program is no more enabling than giving insulin to a diabetic person. 

“People don’t set out to have an addiction. Most addictions are the result of severe trauma,” he said. 

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