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Julie Rae

Julie Rae

Primary prevention evangelist
July 28, 2017

Q. Why start a Drug Action Team? A. ‘It takes a village …’

‘It takes a village …’ is the first part of an old proverb that ends with ‘… to raise a child.’ The message being that it takes a whole community to raise a healthy person from birth, through toddlerdom, preteens, teens, and the other treacherous and wonderful moments of early life.

It alludes to the fact that children are not solely the product of their parents. Rather, they’re influenced by their surroundings including relatives, friends, neighbours, caregivers and all the other people in the village.

Interestingly, the evidence is that this applies to everyone, not just children.

Throughout our lives, our behaviour is shaped by those around us, and by the opportunities and challenges we experience in our families, our workplaces, through the services we access, at our sporting and other clubs, and in our broader community.

The important ‘take-away’ from this is that we have far more power than we generally recognise when it comes to social change. And it provides us with clear directions on what we need to do as a community to deliver effective drug prevention and other behaviour change programs to improve our collective health and well-being.

Cue drug action teams

Many communities feel rudderless when it comes to knowing how to tackle alcohol and other drug harms. The common result being piecemeal, non-targeted responses that often exacerbate the problem. But this is where recognising the importance of taking a ‘whole-of-community’ approach, and the benefits of forming a drug action team to understand what’s driving local drug use, can help communities. So what are the benefits?

Alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems are not spread evenly through society. People most at risk are those who feel alienated, lonely, isolated, think they have no purpose in life and who think the future is bleak. Others commonly at risk those who surrounded by AOD use, including heavy drinking, smoking and the use of drugs by family and friends.

Drug action teams (DATs) can reduce the influence of these risk factors by boosting the community’s protective factors.

Protective factors include lifting opportunities for social interaction, for people to develop friendships, to join clubs, societies and groups, or to pursue their sporting and cultural interests.

DATs can also play a role in educating and influencing their communities about low risk drug use, alternatives ways to manage stress, the importance of role modelling and the need for organisations and workplaces to establish drug policies that deter drug use.

The four areas in which DATs can work

There are four broad categories where DATs can make a real difference:

  1. Raise awareness of local AOD issues;
  2. Educate and inform;
  3. Advocacy; and
  4. Change behaviour.

By working together, organisations and individuals across communities can achieve a lot, but there are a number of important steps you need to follow when launching your DAT and delivering a successful local or community plan to reduce AOD harms.

Where to start

First, it’s important not to tackle this on your own. Seek out partners across your ‘village’ who are similarly working towards improvements in health and wellbeing. So much rests on effective partnerships.

Think laterally, some of the best approaches we’ve seen to tackling AOD harms include a huge variety of ‘players’: from schools, to primary health care networks, to police and local councils.

DATs need to ensure they are part of the ‘bigger picture work’ already going on in their community. This will enable the extension of existing community action plans by furthering and deepening connections between agencies and individuals, and better targeting these plans to ensure that they’re more effective.

Next, drug action teams need to collect and understand the evidence before finalising the target/s of their project. Illegal drugs regularly hit the headlines, but the story can misrepresent or mask the true or possibly a bigger AOD within your community. Five thousand Australians die from alcohol related harm and 157,000 people are hospitalised each year.

Today, more people are dying from pharmaceutical opioids and/or benzodiazepines than those who die from using illegal drugs.

What’s actually happening in your community? Find out by contacting local health, police and other emergency agencies.

Understanding what you will do, how you will do it, and who you will do it with, are vital steps in developing programs. This includes speaking to members of the community you are planning to assist.

No less important however, what you do must be grounded both in the evidence of the problem your community faces, and what is already known about best health promotion and drug prevention practice.

We all want to live in a community that is safe and healthy. DATs provide communities with the opportunity to do this by reducing the risk factors and strengthening the protective factors to reduce AOD misuse and harm.