Keeping Iqaluit beer, wine store open is important for harm reduction, says Nunavut's top doctor

Nunavut's top doctor says there are serious consequences to closing the Iqaluit beer and wine store. 

"It's an unfortunate reality that there are people who are alcoholics, who have been using alcohol on a daily basis for many years," Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory's chief public health officer, said at a news conference Tuesday.

"Suddenly withdrawing that source will lead to increased presentation of alcohol withdrawal, which by itself can be life-threatening."

As of Wednesday, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut.

The Iqaluit beer and wine store remains open while other businesses, such as bars and restaurants, have closed over concerns about the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Nick Murray/CBC

Nunavut's health minister declared a public health emergency on March 18, which enforced the closures. 

The beer and wine store was one of the first businesses to implement rules for social distancing in lineups, and will no longer accept cash. Patterson says these measures makes the store a lower risk for transmitting COVID-19.

"Right now, where there is no COVID-19 in the territory, and especially none in Iqaluit, the benefit of closing that store is outweighed by the definite harms," said Patterson.

Keeping the store open, says Patterson, also keeps bootlegging less profitable at a time when many people are short on cash because of layoffs related to the pandemic.

Help available for people suffering from addiction 

Katherine Martin, who runs a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) women's recovery group in Iqaluit, shares Patterson's views related to keeping the beer and wine store operating. 

"I feel that it is a good thing for harm reduction purposes and harm reduction purposes alone," said Martin. 

"The last thing the community needs is to have alcoholics or addicts going into [a] detoxification scenario with our hospitals that may become overburdened with COVID-19 cases." 

Everyone in Nunavut is asked to stay home as much as possible. This means only leaving home to go to the grocery store and not interacting with people who live outside one's household. 

It's something that could be challenging for people in recovery, says Martin. 

"If you have to stay home and if you have to self-isolate with family members, if your family members are using and you're not, that's going to be difficult," said Martin. 

But there's help, she says. 

Though Martin is unable to run NA meetings in person, she says there are many resources for people who need support. 

Submitted by Katherine Martin

One option is online NA meetings through a video messaging app called Zoom. Martin says she will post instructions on how to join these meetings on the Iqaluit Public Service Announcements Facebook page.

For those who may not have the bandwidth for video meetings, she says there are plenty of resources people can read on the Narcotics Anonymous website. But traditionally, she says reaching out to people to talk to, such as herself, is available.

"We are all available on Facebook, we are all available by phone," said Martin, who added that she is reachable by Facebook if anyone wants to talk. 

"There is help available, there are definitely other options than to leave your home and go to a meeting," she said. "There is lots that you can do." 

Martin said NA is for anyone suffering from addictions, not just drugs or alcohol.