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Free booze cure

February 10 2011
A Canadian scheme to give alcohol to rough sleepers is spectacularly successful


A scheme in Canada to give free alcohol to rough sleepers has been "spectacularly successful", according to researchers. Under the scheme, a small amount of alcohol is given every few hours to people with alcohol problems. The idea is to get them to drink less by encouraging moderate drinking in a controlled environment.

A team in British Columbia recommended raising tax on most alcohol to discourage people from buying potentially harmful drinks. At the same time, they worried that some who could no longer afford those drinks would turn to products such as mouthwash and antifreeze, which are far more dangerous than normal alcoholic drinks.

Lead researcher Tim Stockwell said: "People think this is crazy, spending taxpayers money giving alcohol to this population, but we do it for methadone, for heroin addicts, why not for alcohol addicts?"

Stockwell added that alcohol should be viewed the same way as hard drugs, though many more people die from alcohol abuse than from drugs like heroin and crack cocaine.

Jeremy Swain, of homeless charity Thames Reach, said there needed to be more projects aimed at getting people to stop drinking completely. He told The Pavement: "Broadly speaking, I go with the view that the majority of the homeless seem to have, which is that there now need to be more abstinence projects.

"The closest we have come at Thames Reach to buying alcohol for people is at one of our hostels where, for a small number of residents, we will go to the off-licence and buy them alcohol. We do this to regulate their intake. We buy them weaker lager than they would buy if they were going themselves - premium lagers rather than super-strength. The overall aim remains to move people, by stages, to complete abstinence, but the reality is that for some this cannot be done in one bound."

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