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Nova Scotia still has a drinking problem.
People in the province still drive drunk, still go on benders at bars, still drink underage and some still drink while pregnant.
Well a report recently concluded that there were no negative or positive effects with casual drinking while pregnant..... so?
To combat this, the provincial Health Promotion and Protection Department launched a strategy last August called Changing the Culture of Alcohol Use in Nova Scotia.
Almost a year later, that plan is leading to some tangible efforts, but thereís been a lot of legwork to do, a provincial official says.
"We know a fair amount around what the issues are," Carolyn Davison, director of addiction services for Health Promotion and Protection, said Wednesday.
"We also know the broad things that weíd like to do to target them. Itís just helping the public and government get prepared and ready and willing to do it."
The strategy indicates the health, social and economic costs of alcohol use in Nova Scotia are enormous: $419 million a year.
Last year was the deadliest on Nova Scotia roads in more than a decade and almost a third of 79 fatal collisions involved alcohol. The year wound up with an early morning brawl on Dec. 24 outside the Halifax bar complex known as the Dome that resulted in 38 people being arrested after a cheap-drink night.
Hey, if you don't like it.... legalize pot.
"We know there are some (policies) we should be doing around the pricing of alcohol, itís just whether or not we can help government understand what is the best approach there," Ms. Davison said.
A group including chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang formed after that melee to consider things like drink prices and bar advertising, hours of operation and the training of bar and security staff.
The group has made its report to government.
In the meantime, the department is working with the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia to update rules on training for servers. The province is also looking at introducing a program called Safer Bars that aims to help staff recognize and avoid potentially violent situations.
There are plans to roll out a new ad campaign on the hazardous drinking that occurs in September when masses of post-secondary students return to the province. High-risk drinking is common among people aged 19 to 29.
While the risks of drinking and driving ought to be a no-brainer, there is confusion about when and how much a person can drink safely, Ms. Davison said.
"Some people think they should drink because there are some health benefits to it," she said. "There are some mixed messages there, but people donít necessarily understand what the limits are. They donít necessarily understand how in Nova Scotia we have a particular culture that seems to promote a culture of intoxication."
Updated guidelines are expected to be released by Health Canada this summer.
The strategy has provided funding to hire alcohol co-ordinators in five health districts. That has helped districts set up programs to meet local needs, like the Making Alcohol Related Changes group in the Capital district. It aims to help people control their alcohol use before it becomes an addiction and causes serious problems.
The Capital district is also the setting for another pilot project thatís meant to determine when alcohol has played a role in Nova Scotiansí traumatic injuries and help those whoíve suffered alcohol-related trauma make lifestyle changes.
The provincial trauma team at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax is called upon more than 500 times a year to care for people injured in car or ATV crashes or serious falls.
Under the pilot project, those people will be tested at the hospital for blood-alcohol content. Those testing positive will be assessed for their willingness to accept alcohol counselling, said Paul Helwig, a clinical program manager at Capital Health.
"Sometimes when thereís events such as this, people are more willing to look at their behaviour and make the changes necessary," he said. "When the ironís hot, we need to strike sometimes."
He said this has been done on an ad hoc basis before but will be done consistently now. Patients will be able to access social workers and addictions counselling and be referred to programs in their home district if theyíre from outside the Capital region.
If the program proves effective, it might be used for less critical emergency department visits, many of which also involve alcohol.
"Weíre not out to tell people they canít drink," Mr. Helwig said. "We just want them to see the realization of maybe they ended up in this accident because they had too much to drink."
All told, just under $800,000 has been spent so far on projects related to the alcohol strategy.