What are you having?
HEAD OF THE NORTH DUBLIN REGIONAL DRUGS AND ALCOHOL TASK FORCE, BRÍD WALSH TALKS TO JOHN MANNING ABOUT TACKLING PUBLIC HARM FROM DRINKING
THE North Dublin Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force is working to tackle the public harm caused by the abuse of alcohol and calling on the wider community in Fingal for its help in reducing alcohol-related harm. It’s a three pronged attack on the problem that sees the task force pilot three new Community Alcohol Forums in Skerries, Balbriggan and Swords, host a seminar on the subject in Malahide and release a new app called ‘Drinksmeter’, designed to reveal the truth about the drinking habits of the people of north Fingal.
All three initiatives centre on the idea of community action on alcohol, defined as mobilising a community in a public health approach to reduce alcohol related harm ‘by changing the context in which alcohol consumption occurs’.
Last Thursday, the task force hosted a seminar on the issue at the Grand Hotel in Malahide and task force co-ordinator, Bríd Walsh explained to the Fingal Independent what the seminar was all about.
She said: ‘In 2016 we applied to be an implementation site for the National Community Action on Alcohol programme and we were approved. We were approved on the basis that we would do a number of things and one of them was that we would develop a North Dublin Regional Alcohol Action Plan and that we would pilot community mobilisation on alcohol in three towns in our area – three quite different towns in Balbriggan, Swords and Skerries.
‘We would also do some focused work in relation to alcohol harm in the community. The seminar is like a kind of kick start to a lot of that work. We have already had our three community round tables in each of the three towns and at those people talked a lot about alcohol harm,’
Bríd explained: ‘There are two parts to the seminar. The first is bringing a whole load of community stakeholders together from North County Dublin. There will be social workers, community workers, youth workers, public representatives and a whole range of different stakeholders as well as people who attended the three round table events. What we are really doing is exploring the evidence base for community action on alcohol.
‘So, we have Dr Shane Butler who is a prolific writer and a professor in Trinity College for years, who has written many books around alcohol policy in Ireland and he is going to talk about the evidence base for community mobilisation on alcohol and look at the whole interface between politics and public opinion.’
She added: ‘Then we have the national lead, Pauline Leonard from the Alcohol Forum and she is the national lead for community action on alcohol and she will talk about what’s actually happening in Ireland and she’s going to focus on what we’ve been doing here in North Dublin. We have been really focused on this in the last year.
The task force co-ordinator said that alcohol could not be treated as an ‘ordinary commodity’ and sold in the same way as ‘your milk and your bread’.
Bríd explained: ‘There was a lot of discussion at all three round table events we have held so far, around the availability of alcohol to young people in terms of pricing and promotions. There was outrage at all three events at this idea of ‘distance sales’ where young people can access alcohol and by alcohol 24 hours a day and get it delivered and nobody is proofing them for ID. We had parents groups at each of the three meetings and they were really worried about that.
‘There is parental responsibility too and we would have explored that a lot during the three meetings. We talked about modelling behaviour and parents being drunk around their children, encouraging their children to drink alcohol, holding events for children in pubs where it is all about drinking lots of alcohol.’
The task force co-ordinator is anxious to stress that this is not an anti-drink campaign, and explained: ‘The other side of it is we are not promoting an anti-drink message either – it’s not about that. The Community Action on Alcohol Programme and indeed, our own Alcohol Forum recognises that lots of people drink for pleasure, leisure and enjoyment and that’s fine and I do that myself.
‘We are not saying that people can’t or shouldn’t drink – this is all about reducing alcohol-related public harm and talking about some of the things local communities can do is partner with local gardaí and local organisations to reduce on-street, alcohol-related antisocial behaviour.’
Some practical measures are coming out of the round table discussions, according to Bríd, who said: ‘We had some suggestions from our round table discussion in Skerries about engaging with publicans and developing a kind of ‘Q Mark’ process where you would ask a public to engage in a number of activities around safer alcohol practices and they could be awarded the Q mark in return. It would be things like not running tabs for people, doing the safer service training, making sure they are checking IDS, displaying drink driving warnings or having free soft drinks for designated drivers.
‘The three communities were very vocal in how they are experiencing public alcohol-related harm in their communities. ‘Interestingly, the three areas reported slightly different harms.’
The third piece of this puzzle is to try to build a true picture of alcohol use across our community and the task force is taking a modern approach to that task.
It has released an app called ‘Drinksmeter’ which is available now from any app store and
free to download and use.
Bríd explained: ‘There are lots of people who are just drinking more than is safe or healthy for them. So this is just for the general
population and it’s an online app that you can download and it contains alcohol screening, some brief advice and signposts for support.’
The task force co-ordinator added: ‘You can download it and it’s free and completely anonymous – you don’t put your name into it or anything like that. You can download it from any app store and there’s a weblink too for people who don’t want to download it on their phones. Doctors will tell you that people don’t tell them the truth when they ask about their drinking. But this gives people
the opportunity to give honest feedback. It’s really user friendly and the way it works is very good.’
‘You just click on the drinks you had in the last week and it will calculate how many calories you drank, it will calculate the risk to your health, the overall cost of it and built
into it is an assessment tool called ‘audit’ and that’s an internationally recognised tool that is used all over the world. ‘That is built into it and it asks you a series of questions and gives you a score and over
a certain score then you are in the high risk category and if you want, you can print that
off and bring it to your GP or a healthcare
professional or into a service like ours. There’s a risk adjuster too that shows you the
difference it would make if you reduced your consumption by a couple of drinks. It’s for the general population and we are not targeting people with problems – it is to give the general population an opportunity to assess their own
drinking patterns and behaviour.’
The task force are aiming the app at everyone who drinks, not just those who think they
might have a problem and are aiming for at least 2,000 downloads in this ‘Drinksmeter 2K’ or ‘2,000 People’ project which will give the organisation an invaluable and honest picture of alcohol use in our community. The North Dublin Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force co-ordinator said: ‘ The benefit to the individual is that it’s free and confidential and they get a chance to reflect on their drinking habits and they don’t have to share it with anybody but if they want, they
can print off the results and bring it to the GP. ‘The benefit for us is that although we don’t capture any personal information, we capture data on our drinking habits. ‘ We want at least 2,000 people in North
Dublin to download this or access it on the web and that will give us brilliant information
and a really true and honest picture of what is happening in terms of drinking patterns
and behaviours in north Fingal.’
THERE WAS A LOT OF DISCUSSION AT ALL THREE ROUND TABLE EVENTS WE HAVE HELD SO FAR, AROUND THE AVAILABILITY OF ALCOHOL TO YOUNG PEOPLE IN TERMS OF PRICING AND PROMOTIONS.
Insp Oliver Woods, Peter Conway, Junior Health Minister with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne, Fingal Deputy Mayor Adrian Henchy and Bríd Walsh.
Brid Walsh, co-ordinator of the North Dublin Regional Drug Taskforce.