Study points to success of ban on rice alcohol

Oct 02, 2003, vol. 28, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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Fewer alcohol overdose deaths have been occurring in the downtown eastside, since a policy restricting access to rice alcohol came into play, says Shereen Hassan.

The criminology graduate student says a four-year ban on the sale of the potent liquor is having a positive short-term effect on related deaths as well as calls to police about people who have consumed the liquor.

Hassan, who graduates Oct.2, presented her findings to the Vancouver police board on Sept. 17. She examined data from the B.C. coroner's service and the Vancouver police department and interviewed 29 stakeholders to track the success of a 1999 provincial policy prohibiting retail stores from selling rice alcohol.

Hassan found a significant decrease in the “sheer volume” of alcohol overdose deaths, with the lowest number recorded in the post-policy year, 2000. Reports of public inebriation also dropped from a weekly average of 8.34 to 5.72 calls.

Primarily intended for use in Asian cuisine and sold through grocery stores, rice alcohol was being picked up by alcoholics. Its high alcohol proof, of up to 38 per cent, made it dangerous to drink. Rice wines with less than 10 per cent alcohol are still available in some unlicenced outlets.

Hassan says the attraction of rice alcohol is its availability, price and potency. She cautions that if the liquor industry is privatized and the sale of rice alcohol becomes deregulated, its abuse could increase.

Hassan undertook the study through SFU's institute for Canadian urban research studies (ICURS). With an interest in alcohol and drug legislation, she wanted her work to benefit the community.

She also wants to help build relationships between police and academics, whom she believes can play a vital role by following up on policy initiatives.

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