Alcoholics would crash health care system if liquor stores shutdown, expert says

Above, LCBO Chesterville location. Smith photo, Nation Valley News

by Kelsey Smith
Nation Valley News

ONTARIO — Many Ontarians keep asking why liquor stores like the LCBO are considered essential and remain open?

Nation Valley News proposed these very questions to local and national Executive Director of the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation (CACCF), Crystal Smalldon.

Simply put, the stores remain open to save the lives of thousands — and prevent the healthcare crisis that alcoholics alone would cause if cut off from their supply.

“When someone is an alcoholic and is going through a withdrawal situation, it is literally a life and death situation,” Smalldon said.

She explained that a lot of clients are reaching out for help all of a sudden because of the pandemic. Alcoholism is considered to be part of mental health, and their clients who do want to get better don’t know how, can’t access more alcohol because of financial reasons, or are not sure how to get into a rehab because of all the closures, resulting in even more stress. 

“Yesterday, our highest request was what to do with no access to alcohol,” Smalldon added.

Twenty-three counsellors dealt with 208 calls yesterday alone. 

“That’s 208 people in 1-day who could have been in dire straits,” she said. 

According to Smalldon, the national average of Canadians dealing with alcoholism is 20 percent. In Ottawa and the Valley that number is almost double, she says. 

“If one percent of that 20 percent ended up in withdrawal, the health system would collapse!” she exclaims, estimating the number at 72,000 intensive care patients — some of them needing ventilators — a crisis unneeded at a time of COVID-19.

“It would create such a hard, fast crash to the system that it’s not safe to do so.”

“If you added that to everything else that is going on, it would be an unfixable situation. A recipe for disaster!” she continued. 

On any given day, CACCF counsellors deal with an average of four to six clients per day. 

Those 23 counsellors, voluntarily, yes voluntarily, averaged around nine clients yesterday. 

Smalldon estimates the case load was, nine clients per worker, “about double the normal” average.  

“We’ve seen a 200 percent increase for virtual support this week alone,” noted Smalldon.

“This morning we are already on target to double that number again. It’s unprecedented and unheard of support request numbers for our counsellors.”

The CACCF’s main priority remains to be the protection of the public.

“Our counsellors unanimously kept coming back with concerns from suicide and mental health due to the social isolation. So now many of our counsellors are voluntarily offering their services to thousands upon thousands of people across the country.”

“Simply because it’s the right thing to do, they say,” she added, expressing with emotion: “It’s really honestly remarkable.” 

For the last 39 years, addictions counselling has remained unregulated. 

In the early 1980’s the late Jeff Willbee saw this as a huge issue and decided to do something about it. 

He started the CACCF to certify thousands of counsellors and help them continue their education. Although the CACCF is not yet regulated, their education still works the same as any college or university course and is offered at any post secondary institution that offers addictions counselling. CACCF does not offer education they certify professionals who have graduated from accredited colleagues and universities. 

Smalldon has since taken over as Executive Director and has run the CACCF from the Carp office for the last five years.  

As counsellors their number one job is to listen to their clients and assess each individual depending on their situation before recommending their next steps. 

“They assess on a case-by-case basis and help them get them where they need to go,” Smalldon told Nation Valley News

All of their counsellors work from home and communicate with their clients over the phone or via video-conferencing based on their preference. 

“We have one office, one headquarters. Our counsellors work virtually across Canada.” 

Many people still speculate that the government decided to keep liquor stores open simply for the compensation. 

“It saddens me when I hear that,” she said. 

“The pandemic is a stressful and difficult time and can bring up many issues … although I can understand why people might think it’s just a money maker. But considering I personally gave this information to the government I would like to think that this is solely about people’s health,” Smalldon assured.

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