Should Saskatchewan close liquor stores? First Nation says yes, addictions experts disagree

Click to play video: 'Montreal Lake Cree Nation calls on province to close liquor stores'
Montreal Lake Cree Nation calls on province to close liquor stores
WATCH: Montreal Lake Cree Nation is calling for all liquor sales in Saskatchewan to be closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, but some addictions experts warn that could do more harm than good – Apr 2, 2020

The Montreal Lake Cree Nation has joined the call for the provincial government to close all liquor sales in Saskatchewan, but some experts say this could hurt people struggling with addiction.

Chief Frank Roberts said they’ve seen more people drinking in his community since COVID-19 began to spread in the province.

“We’ve had to respond to a lot of house parties here with local security personnel and the RCMP,” Roberts said.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) made a similar call, saying the Government of Saskatchewan should close all liquor stores in a Twitter post on March 17.

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Montreal Lake Cree Nation is going into lockdown on Friday, according to Roberts, to help stop the flow of alcohol coming into the community.

Roberts said the nearest place to buy alcohol is about 20 minutes away, and it’s that outlet they’re most worried about.

“The province has shut down all other places in terms of the night clubs,” he pointed out.

“Also [stores have] limited the shopping in terms of groceries and stuff like that, so why can’t the province do the same?”

When asked by reporters about closing liquor stores during a press conference on March 25, Premier Scott Moe said that would put more strain on the health care system.

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“There would be people that would go through, not only withdrawals, but into a system that we are making efforts in normal time to expand to address the demand,” Moe said.

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Dr. Peter Butt researches substance use disorders at the University of Saskatchewan. He says people will find alternatives if they can’t get their hands on alcohol, like drinking hairspray or mouthwash.

They could also turn to cleaning products made with alcohol.

“With alcohol-based hand sanitizes proliferating because of COVID we’re going to see more of that product … or other cleaning products [being ingested],” he said.
Click to play video: 'Substance addiction: How the COVID-19 pandemic affects people in recovery'
Substance addiction: How the COVID-19 pandemic affects people in recovery

Rather than cutting off access to alcohol, he said the focus should be on how to avoid congregations of people when they’re drinking.

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The Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service (SCIS), which works with people with addictions, said many use alcohol like “medicine” to cope with mental health problems.

“Just like people would rely on prescription drugs, some people need alcohol to accomplish the same thing,” said Jordan Mills, director of clinical services with SCIS.

Mills said he understands the Montreal Lake Cree Nation’s concerns, but said closing liquor stores would only hurt people already struggling.

“We wouldn’t ask to close the methadone clinic for people in Saskatoon, for people needing opioid therapy, so I think we need to be looking at it in a similar way,” he said.

For now, the province has not said it will be closing liquor sales.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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