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Public Consultation: Alcohol in the community

background information.

In January 2014 Alex  White, Junior minister for health at the time, invited stakeholders to a meeting  in Dublin Castle to asses the impact of the National Drugs strategy and on how alcohol can be incorporated into the work of drug task forces.   The logic is that drug task forces are best placed to coordinate services locally. This makes sense, as since 1997 the taskforce structure has been successful in coordinating drugs services. The Task Force  does this by bringing together statutory, voluntary and community services to provide a coordinated approach to an issue as complex as substance misuse. An initial allocation of €50,000 was made available to each Task Force in the implementation of a local strategy.  (Task Forces were formally asked to incorporate alcohol in their title in April 2014)

Alcohol however  isno ordinary commodity, it effects a large proportion of the community, in different ways, in numbers  far greater than all illicit drugs together. It is also a legal commodity. It  provides revenue and jobs.  Therefore, Task force can have an impact on  some parts  that need attention, but are not in a position to do so in other area’s

The public health  (alcohol) bill  is due to be published. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will contain a package of measures designed to tackle our harmful relationship with alcohol, reducing alcohol consumption and the related harms..

 

Introduction

Bray Local Drug and Alcohol  Task Force recommended to host a public consultation event, with the view to asses the local situation, to get some indicator of area’s that would need to be addressed locally that are also identified nationally as area’s where the Task Force can play a role ( Review of National Substance Misuse Actions where the Task Force can play a role). An additional effect of a public consultation event is that it starts the community in thinking about issues that are as complex as alcohol use in society. In order to allow an as wide as possible target audience, it was decided to hold 3 events. One is at lunchtime, targeted at the general public and people working in the area. The 3 pm event is aimed at young people, and invitations were send to youth groups, youth services, youth reach and schools.  The 7 pm session is aimed at the general public, who may not have had time during the day or are working away from the area.

The public consultation

At 1 Dr Bobby Smyth, Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist gave  the keynote speech. Dr Smyth is consultant Child and adolescent psychiatrist with the HSE, Senior lecturer in Trinity, and a board member of Alcohol Action Ireland.

Dr Smyth asked the societal questions like when do people lose the ability to have fun without alcohol? As children we can run around and play, but growing up it needs to be fuelled by alcohol, as an excuse nearly.

He also pointed out that people who allow their children to drink at an early age may do so for the right reasons “ at least I know” or “surely one drink does no harm” but as Dr Smyth pointed out, it gives the wrong signal to the children, it adds fuel to the fire. Children who start drinking younger are more likely to experiment with other illegal substances. Therefore alcohol is much more a “gateway drug” than any other substance. Dr Smyth also applauded the young scientist exhibition winners : does the apple fall far from the  tree, by Ian O Sullivan and Eimear Murphy. Their findings of the impact of parental alcohol use and parents attitude towards alcohol has a major impact on young peoples drinking behaviour. This  is something known to people working in the field for a long time, but winning the young scientist exhibition  brought it home to a lot of people.

Dr Smyth also addressed the link between alcohol use and suicide: alcohol use is linked to 58% of male suicide.

Dr Smyth explained that  there are reasons that some people develop problematic alcohol or drug using patterns, whilst others may experiment or use but their use does not become problematic. The Search Institute has identified 40 developmental assets, that help young people grow up healthy, caring and responsible. It is shown that children with fewer assets have less protection in dealing with issues like drug and alcohol use, violence and sexual activity. More assets contribute to school performance, maintaining health and values. ( more from www.search-institute.org)

The 1 pm session was attended by a wide variety of professional working in the Bray area, representing community, voluntary, and statutory services. There were public representatives, members of the general public and special interest groups.

 

The Youth event at 3 pm was attended  by young people from Bray Youth Reach, South Bray Resource Centre, Little Bray Youth group, Connect Bray Youth Group, Ballywaltrim Youth Group, Celtic Youth Bray, and Seomra Youth Service Bray. The youth watched 2 short video’s made in Bray and Newtownmountkennedy, one called  “Money talks” and one on “Alcohol” The video’s were made with assistance of Bray Youth Service, and were used with kind permission of Bray Youth Service

This was followed by group discussions on how alcohol is affecting the community.

 

Deputy Andrew Doyle TD  chaired the 7 pm meeting. Deputy Doyle is a member of Dáil Éireann and represents the constituency of Wicklow-East Carlow. He is currently the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

First elected at the 2007 general election to the Dáil.

He was previously a member of Wicklow County Council from 1999-2007 and was Cathaoirleach of Wicklow from 2005 to 2006 He was also previously chair of East Coast Regional Drug Task Force.  The 7 pm  session looked at the work done by government, and how national issues are reflective of local context. Deputy Doyle spoke about the need for legislation like the Public Health Alcohol bill to support local initiatives, but that legislation alone does not changes the public behaviour, this is done through local actions and local initiatives. The main topics identified locally by this group are:

  • The public Health (Alcohol ) bill
  • Parental alcohol use and attitude towards both their own and young peoples alcohol use.
  • Young peoples drinking patterns
  • The need of a positive role model
  • Need for a shift in public behaviour

 

The discussion will be around the statement:

“How is the use of alcohol affecting your community?”

 

Feedback from public consultation event

The discussion in small groups around the statement  “ how is alcohol affecting your community”  provided a variety of responses. At the 1 pm session, there were 7 small groups who discussed this statement. Feedback from the small groups identified issues like

“Drinking at home is on  the increase, due to cheap off sales. The impact of same on young people’s drinking behaviour and attitude towards alcohol”

“Easy and cheap to get drink”

“Young people and drink: at least young people do not drink and drive”

“Teen alcohol use”

“Parental alcohol use”

“Home drinking”

“Reasons to drink”

“Opportunity to drink”

“Advertisement”

While the discussion was to be focused on the issues caused by alcohol in the community, some groups progressed onto the exploration of possible solutions to the problems identified.

Some actions that are suggested:

  • More evening opening hours for alcohol free venues: Youth groups.
  • Alcohol free alternative to socialise for the general public
  • Aim to change attitude through sports promotion
  • Get young people involved
  • Raise awareness locally, this has a bigger impact than a national awareness campaign.

 

The 3 pm group, attended by 40+ teenagers and young adults provided the following points of conversation:

“All adults drink”

“Reasons to drink: fitting in, feeling more mature, image, for the sake of it.”

“Drink is normal”

“No alternatives”

“Advise  for young people On how to cope without drink”

“Drink v Drugs : one is taxed ( except heroin, that is a bad one)”

“Starting at 15: the real gateway drug”

“Easy and cheap to get drink”

 

 

Some actions that were suggested from the group

  • Limit amount of alcohol people can buy, similar to paracetamol
  • Young people should expect consequences from their actions
  • Provide more alternatives to drinking
  • Access to sport facilities
  • Advertisement on packaging
  • More places open in the evening
  • More initiatives for youth employment

 

The 7 pm public consultation event was attended by a cross representation of community and voluntary service providers, statutory services and the general public. Andrew Doyle TD chaired the meeting, which took the format of a group discussion. Issues identified includes

“Parental alcohol use and attitude towards both their own and young people’s alcohol use is an issue “

“The public health (alcohol) bill is the framework that will assist local communities in addressing the harm done by excessive alcohol use”

“Young people’s drinking patterns”

“The need of a positive role model”

“Need for a shift in public behaviour “

From the discussion based on the findings in the Young Scientist Exhibition winners it was agreed that parental influence on young people’s drinking behaviour and attitude towards alcohol is  one area where local services could play a significant role.

However, the need for more school based education was discussed and while this may reach a large portion of the target audience, the impact of this was questioned

 

The common themes emerging from the different groups can be condensed into the following headings:

  • The relationship between youth drinking behaviour and parental drinking behaviour
  • Reasons why people drink
  • Role of advertisement in alcohol consumption.
  • Lack of alternatives

 

The National Substance Misuse Strategy

A subgroup of the National Coordinating Committee for Drug and Alcohol Task Forces reviewed the actions proposed in the National Substance Misuse Strategy in May 2014, with the view to identify actions where a Task Force could play a role in implementation. The committee considered each recommendation with a view to determine if

A-    Task Forces could have a supporting/ ancillary role

B-    Coordinating role for Task Force

C-    Outside scope of Drug and Alcohol Task Force.

In the consideration of an action plan, Bray Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force is aware of the actions in the NSMS identified where they can play a role, in a coordinating or ancillary role. (Please see appendix II for list of NSMS actions)

Some of the issues identified in the public consultation process are in line with actions of the NSMS identified as actions where the Task Force could play a role.

 

Conclusion

 

Alcohol has been incorporated into the remit of Drug and Alcohol Task Forces. It is evident that there are a number of issues that a local community service cannot  address: issues like drink driving measures, minimum pricing, labelling. Through public consultation Bray LDATF seeks  to inform local policy development, on alcohol, identify appropriate responses and  area’s where Bray Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force  can make an impact on the negative consequences of the use of alcohol.. To identify local issues that can be addressed through existing Task Force structures,

The first public consultation event identified  a number of issues condensed into:

The relationship between youth drinking behaviour and parental drinking behaviour

Reasons why people drink

Role of advertisement in alcohol consumption.

Lack of alternatives

These local issues are seen in the context of actions in the NSMS identified as actions where Task Forces could play a role in implementation. In line with the NSMS actions Bray Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force will develop an local substance misuse strategy. The Strategy will also identify a number of actions that will aim to address the issues identified in the public consultation process

 

 

Next steps

The Task force will have to consider the issues identified and draft up a local alcohol strategy that proposes a number of key area’s where existing structures can have an impact on alcohol related harm.

This will need further public consultation to ensure public opinion is represented and that actions or initiatives proposed do have public support and are effective in their implementation.

Funding will have to be sought on a number of actions. At the moment a sum of €41,000 has been allocated to each Task Force to assist in the implementation of a local alcohol strategy.

 

Special thanks to

Guest speakers Dr Bobby Smyth, Andrew Doyle TD

Bray Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force.

Bray Youth Service

Bray Municipal District

Bray Family Resource Project

Bell Pepper Café

East Coast Radio

 

References
Suzan scally presentation Dublin Castle

NSMS

Interim report on

Public health alcohol bill

Young scientist exhibition

Search Institute  40 assets

Dr Bobby Smyth presentation

 

While this is the first step in the process of developing an action plan and alcohol focused strategy for Bray Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force, and the aim of the public consultation process is to get some baseline information on the extend of alcohol use in Bray, there are a number of recommendations emerging from the public consultation event that may be considered by Bray Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force.

  1. Promote alcohol free venues for youth
  2. Promote alcohol free venues for general public
  3. Promote alcohol free events
  4. Address drinking behaviour through awareness campaign.
  5. Challenge miss information.