Prescribing alcohol: why an Alberta hospital allows supervised drinking

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WATCH ABOVE: In Tuesday's edition of Health Matters, Su-Ling Goh looks at why an Alberta hospital allows supervised drinking and how a bracelet is bringing parents of children with autism some peace of mind – Mar 13, 2018

Doctors at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital are prescribing vodka to patients with severe alcoholism. It’s one of the first in-hospital programs of its kind in Canada.

“The goal of this program is not to have people intoxicated,” says Dr. Karine Meador, assistant director of the Inner City Health and Wellness Program.

“Our goal is actually to prevent intoxication. So if they’re not as intoxicated, they’re making better decisions, able to control their use better.”

READ MORE: Managed alcohol program gives homeless addicts wine as part of treatment

The program targets patients who are admitted to hospital for any reason, and who struggle with serious alcohol use disorder. They’re prescribed about five or six 45-millilitre bottles of vodka per day.

That keeps people in hospital to complete their medical treatments, rather than leaving to go find alcohol.

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“Patients who were really struggling to stay sober in hospital, unfortunately weren’t able [to],” Meador says.

“So they were going out and drinking and having falls and fractures — things that extended the length of hospitalization.”

Meador says the managed alcohol program (MAP) has saved the health-care system money by preventing readmissions and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. It’s also reduced the amount some patients drink.

“Somebody who might be drinking 26 ounces of vodka a day — in hospital, in this more controlled fashion, they’re able to become comfortable and stable on five to six drinks a day.”

Counsellors and peer support workers provide bedside support.

WATCH: A closer look at a controversial alcohol treatment program

Since December 2016, about 15 patients have participated in MAP. Most were homeless.

“I think there’s this misconception that [patients] should try to quit drinking, [but that’s] not recognizing that this person has probably tried 20 times already to quit drinking and not been successful at it for a variety of reasons,” Meador says.

“So we can either not address that [and] bury our heads in the sand, or we can acknowledge that that’s the reality of that person in that moment and treat them appropriately.”
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