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

Fingal Independent - - NEWS SPECIAL -

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.

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