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Top doc calls for 'wet shelters' in Yellowknife
Distinguished doctor says police, arrests won't solve addictions problems

Daniel Campbell
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) said he believes wet shelters could help severe alcoholics in Yellowknife.

Dr. Louis Francescutti was in the city Friday for the NWT Medical Association's annual meeting.

Speaking with Yellowknifer, Francescutti emphasized people with alcohol addiction have a disease that needs treatment.

Yellowknife currently has no 'wet shelters' - or homeless shelters where alcoholics are given food, warmth and small amounts of alcohol to tide them over.

The Salvation Army, Yellowknife's men's shelter, has a small area set aside for intoxicated people to sleep at night. They do not provide alcohol and severely intoxicated people are often picked up by RCMP to spend a night in the drunk tank.

"If someone shows up and they're addicted, we shouldn't be throwing them in jail. What they need is medical treatment," Francescutti said.

Alcoholics might begin to think their only options are going to jail or the emergency room, Francescutti added. He said a medical system should focus on harm reduction.

"We have to align our thinking a little differently than it has been in the past," Francescutti said.

"For chronic alcoholics, the best thing in the world is a wet shelter."

Francescutti added because alcoholics and those with other addictions often end up in the hands of police, RCMP and health officials should look at creating closer relationships.

CMA presidents serve three-year terms and attend NWT Medical Association meetings annually. The CMA advocates on behalf of health care workers and the public about medical issues.

The previous CMA president, Dr. Anna Reid, is an emergency room doctor at Stanton Territorial Hospital.

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