Strong communities provide a protective factor against substance misuse. Understanding the strength that connection provides helps communities manage the challenge of reducing harms more easily.
Made up of seven municipalities located in the south-eastern corner of South Australia, the Limestone Coast region is often described as an idyllic combination of stunning coastline and irresistible food and wine. But despite this setting, the residents of the Limestone Coast still face many of the issues common to other communities, including the misuse of alcohol and other drugs (AODs).
Fortunately for the region though, it’s also home to many passionate people wanting to prevent and minimise AOD misuse, and the harms that often follow.
In 2015, four of these people got together to form what would later become their region’s Local Drug Action Team (LDAT). Initially, this tightknit group developed and ran a series of highly successful ‘Understanding the Ice Factor’ drug forums in the region. They quickly found, however, that the benefits were two-fold. Not only did the forums enable the group to speak to large numbers of people, but they also helped the group to get a broader understanding of the range of AOD misuse issues affecting the Limestone Coast.
“The group told me that while running these forums, it became increasingly apparent that they should be taking a whole-of-community approach to their work,” says Ruth Miller, Relationship Manager with the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
“So, when the ADF announced the Local Drug Action Team Program in 2016, they formed a working party to take advantage of the opportunities it offered.”
Led by Sergeant Andy Stott (South Australian Police), Dr Judy Nagy (City of Mount Gambier), Dr Sue Mutton (formerly from the University of South Australia) and Sophie Bourchier (Project Officer), this group became the first ADF-funded Local Drug Action Team in South Australia. Known as Substance Misuse Limestone Coast Working Party, the key aims of the LDAT are now to help establish a collaborative, evidence-informed, community model to address AOD-misuse in the area, including importantly, advocating for evidence-informed AOD education in schools.
“We are thrilled with the opportunity the ADF’s LDAT Program has given us to extend our influence around addressing substance misuse,” said Dr Judy Nagy. “We have a dedicated project officer who has been able to use the ADF resources to identify affordable school-based alcohol and other drug harm minimisation programs – and then support local schools to embed one of these into their curriculum.”
The LDAT initially expected to spend more time researching the best approach regarding effective programs in schools. “But access to ADF resources meant they could quickly adopt an effective evidence-informed approach to reducing AOD harms among their student target group,” says Ruth.
The team found this information easy to access: attending the Education in Schools webinar, downloading materials from the ADF’s Community Hub website, and liaising with ADF staff when they had any questions.
“We’re now encouraging all schools in our area to take up an evidence-informed program. In the years to come, we expect to see delayed uptake and use of alcohol and other drugs in our community,” says Sophie.
Finding an effective schools-based approach early on was a key win identified by the LDAT.
Supported by the ADF, the team chose the evidence-informed approach known as CLIMATE Schools, together with the SAHMRI Resilience and Well-Being Program. “The education community is reporting that the programs are enabling young people to realise their sense of self-worth, with evidence suggesting that this is likely to delay the uptake of alcohol and other drugs. The spread of confidence in the general community is also noticeable,” Judy Nagy says.
The team learnt more about this approach through the ADF’s Education in Schools toolkit and webinar. Having access to the best approach from the start has meant that Substance Misuse Limestone Coast LDAT are spending less time developing and trialling their own school education project.
Selecting a trusted ‘off-the-shelf’ program, one they know has been effective, means the team have been able to get down to delivering AOD education to students much sooner, and with more confidence.
“Another interesting aspect of the school project is that Year 10 students who are completing the program modules are now being awarded 10 South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) points to support Year 9 teachers deliver the program to their students in Term 3. This is helping to cement their knowledge, build their resilience and life skills, and at the same time, influence the level of sustainability of the LDAT’s project,” says Judy.
With their background previously running community forums on AOD issues facing the region, representatives from the Substance Misuse Limestone Coast LDAT have been able to report increased community understanding with their latest round of forums hosted since the team joined the LDAT Program.
One attendee at a recent forum congratulated the team for helping to reduce community anxiety: “Well done! I [feel] more secure knowing people are more on top of the issues.”
Delivered by skilled presenters, these forums have been filmed by SA Police. The benefit of this approach is that it makes the project more sustainable over the long term, with the video now able to be distributed and shown in other towns throughout the region via other LDAT partners including the local Rotary and Lions Clubs.
“It’s great to see the interest and funding support from these local groups too – this is helping extend the reach, influence and sustainability of this project”, says Ruth.
One of the other early benefits reported by the team has been the opportunity that the LDAT Program’s grant funding has made to their ability to attract additional resources. With this funding, for instance, the team was able to encourage further support, including matched funding from one of their project partners.
This, in turn, increased the scope and profile of their work, and has seen it expand from being delivered in just one local government area, to now covering seven council areas. This has expanded the reach and impact of the LDATs work, and will further improve its sustainability.
“There have been a range of learnings from my work with the team,” says Ruth. “This information helps me when speaking to other LDATs with similar issues. One key learning identified by the team has been the need to keep partners engaged and motivated; and if this starts to wane, quickly putting strategies in place to reinvigorate the group.”
“A key to success, both for the ADF’s Relationship Managers, and for LDAT partners on the ground, is to keep checking in and ensuring everything is on track,” says Ruth.
“Over the last year I’ve had some great conversations with members of the LDAT, including Sophie. After speaking with them I feel energised about the work we’re doing.
“Working together, I feel we’re making a difference and shaping something worthwhile,” says Ruth.
Main photo: Substance Misuse Limestone Coast Working Group supports the Tenison Woods College teaching staff including Tania Sigley (pictured) to provide drug and alcohol education through CLIMATE Schools.