A Managed Alcohol Program is a Means of Harm Reduction

Harm reduction approaches like managed alcohol programs help people reduce risks in their lives and take better care of themselves.

Folks, let’s face it: people in our province like to have a drink. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, Newfoundland and Labrador boasts the highest alcohol consumption rates per capita of any province or territory. In 2015, Statistics Canada found that our province has the highest proportion of heavy drinkers. We are no stranger to regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol. Most of us have our own experiences with alcohol, whether that be a social drink, a family member who likes to have a sip, or even “a bit of a habit.” 

Because we see people who drink every day, we can struggle to have empathy for people who drink in a way that’s really risky or harmful. If I can drink without needing to consume rubbing alcohol, why can’t she? If I drink regularly but never experience withdrawal seizures, how come they can’t just stop drinking like I do? If I’ve never traded sex for alcohol, then why does he need to? If you are a person whose drinking does not cause you a lot of physical, social, or financial harm, you might see these harms as optional to any drinker. 

But for many people, the simple fact of the matter is that they aren’t optional.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, too often we are taught to see people who experience harms related to drinking as a product of their own decision-making, and therefore less deserving of help. But the truth is, all of us deserve the support we need to build the changes in our lives that would help us to stay safe, happy, and connected to our community.

For a year now, the St. John’s Status of Women Council has been administering a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP). MAP offers women, non-binary, and two-spirit people in our community a prescription amount of alcohol dispensed based on each individuals’ unique needs. This prescription is supplemented with support from an outreach team and healthcare providers. With these physical needs met, and with a community of support, MAP participants can build stability, and reduce the harms and risks that they have been trying to manage on their own. 

We imagine a future for Newfoundland and Labrador where managed alcohol programs are part of the fabric of our society, but also one where these programs come with housing and even more healthcare options. We imagine a province where safe use and injection sites are as common harm reduction strategies as seatbelts and nicotine patches are today. These harm reduction tools allow people to access options, to reduce risks in their lives, and to take the best care of themselves. 

Now, you may be wondering why folks don’t just choose not to drink. For many people, abstinence works. But the truth is, it doesn’t work for everyone. There is the physiological fact that people can die from withdrawal symptoms, and the fear of that reality is frightening for people who have gone through withdrawal before. And there are folks for whom abstinence just isn’t a great option for them right now. No matter the reason, everyone deserves support to reduce harms related to drinking.

Here at the St. John’s Status of Women Council, we knew that we had to get creative to meet the needs of the community. What MAP offers is options. It provides folks with a safe supply of alcohol, based on a prescription determined by healthcare providers, safely dispensed on a personalized schedule, alongside support.

We are asking the community to question the ways in which we have been taught to think about people who face harms related to their drinking. We challenge you to think about people in your life that have been impacted by alcohol and imagine how access to personalized, critical support could build safer options in their lives.

Yes, drinking is a part of what we do in Newfoundland and Labrador. But building support for people struggling with drinking is also part of what we can do. Because we know it and you do too—we all deserve harm reduction strategies in our lives. It builds safer communities and that is something we all can support.

Lisa Faye, Executive Director
St. John’s Status of Women Council

If you know a woman, non-binary, or two-spirit identifying person who is interested in learning more about the Managed Alcohol Program, please contact the Harm Reduction Coordinator, Becky Fleming – becky@sjwomenscentre.ca

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