Alcohol-related deaths are preventable
I am writing in the wake of the release of the coroner's recommendations following two student deaths at Queen's this past year. On behalf of the many community partners involved in the Greater Kingston Area Safe & Sober Community Alliance, I applaud Principal Daniel Woolf for his commitment to moving forward immediately with these recommendations.
Alcohol-related harm stemming from falls, alcohol poisoning, street parties, assaults, and drinking and driving will not go away until we collectively work towards changing the culture of drinking in our community and in our society through policies and supportive environments.
"Provincial trends indicate that for post-secondary-aged youth and young adults 18-29 years, weekly heavy drinking has increased from 11 per cent in 1995 to 26 per cent in 2007 . . . ."
Changing the local alcohol environment can modify factors that influence consumption and thereby reduce alcohol-related harm. There are several factors that increase the likelihood an individual will engage in risky alcohol use. These include pricing and affordability, availability and accessibility, alcohol outlet density, alcohol advertising targeting specific populations (e. g. university/ college students), and the normalization of heavy drinking.
While the misuse of alcohol can sometimes lead to dependency, for most people alcohol-related harm stems from patterns of use. Unlike products such as tobacco, alcohol can be consumed at a safe or “low-risk” level. The provincial low-risk drinking guidelines recommend no more than two drinks per day, and no more than nine drinks per week for women and 14 for men. Provincial trends indicate that for post-secondary-aged youth and young adults 18-29 years, weekly heavy drinking has increased from 11 per cent in 1995 to 26 per cent in 2007, and hazardous or harmful drinking has increased from 22 per cent in 2002 to 39 per cent in 2007.
In the current climate of alcohol deregulation in the province of Ontario, including further recent changes to the Liquor Licence Act to increase availability and accessibility of alcohol at festivals and events, there is a role for Public Health, the City of Kingston, and Queen's University to advocate for alcohol policies that we know will have an impact on the health and safety of the community. As a society we are drinking more alcohol, and heavy drinking has become the norm. By working together we can change the conditions that promote heavy alcohol consumption, and prevent further tragedies in our community. Alcohol-related injuries and deaths are not "accidents." Sadly they are both predictable and preventable.