The Gentlemen Revolutionaries

Dedicated to the Preservation of the First Amendment

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, January 06, 2006

Ridiculous item of the week:

TORONTO, Ontario (Reuters) -- Giving homeless alcoholics a regular supply of booze may improve their health and their behavior, the Canadian Medical Association Journal said in a study published on Tuesday.

Seventeen homeless adults, all with long and chronic histories of alcohol abuse, were allowed up to 15 glasses of wine or sherry a day -- a glass an hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. -- in the Ottawa-based program, which started in 2002 and is continuing.

After an average of 16 months, the number of times participants got in trouble with the law had fallen 51 percent from the three years before they joined the program, and hospital emergency room visits were down 36 percent.

"Once we give a 'small amount' of alcohol and stabilize the addiction, we are able to provide health services that lead to a reduction in the unnecessary health services they were getting before," said Dr. Jeff Turnbull, one of the authors of the report.

"The alcohol gets them in, builds the trust and then we have the opportunity to treat other medical diseases... It's about improving the quality of life."

Do I even have to get into how freaking stupid this study is? 17, great sample size. Oh and you are trying to help them get more medical services so you just feed their addiction... GREAT... I am sorry but Canadians just really rub me the wrong way sometimes.


Blogger Marty Grimes said...

To read the Reuters story, you’d conclude that the key to helping homeless alcoholics is giving them free wine all day long. But, the positive health outcomes and reduction in police encounters may have nothing to do with free wine. It may have everything to do with the fact that the program offered free room and board, aid with activities of daily living (maid service?), and help getting enrolled into benefits programs. An aide took them to medical appointments and dispensed medications, and medical care was provided on site by nurses and two doctors. I don’t think it was the booze that helped them out. And all of that medical supervision only reduced trips to the emergency room by half.

Offering free room and board isn’t enough to attract this population, the authors would counter. Free booze draws them into an environment where preventative medical care can be provided. But without a control group, the impact of the open bar is just speculation. Perhaps the key component wasn’t actually providing the liquor—it was the fact that, unlike most shelter programs, participants don’t have to go cold turkey to participate.

But what about the reduction in alcohol use? Bogus. First problem: only 10 of the 17 participants are included in that analysis--three refused to answer the questions and three died (!)--and you have to wonder if these participants were fudging their reported drinking to these fine folks who were trying to help them. Finally, in a tiny footnote in the published study, we find out that anything they drank off the premises was not included in the comparison. Do you think maybe some of them may have snuck out back from time to time to supplement their boxed Chablis with a little Thunderbird?

Kudos to the authors who are trying to help a population that seems beyond hope, but they’ve taken harm reduction over the line into enabling. Giving shelter, food, medical care and social services to alcoholics who won’t jump on the wagon may create the same positive outcomes. Despite what the CNN's headline implies, putting up a free martini bar next to every methadone clinic is not the answer.

3:49 AM  

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