A group that has delivered proven harm-reduction alcohol programs to sporting clubs across Australia is about to help clubs deal with illegal drugs in their communities.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s Good Sports program received $4.6 million over 4 years in the 2016 Federal Budget to begin rolling out a national initiative, named Tackling the Issue, to guide and support sporting clubs to form their own illegal drug policies.
To show clubs how they can prevent and reduce the harms of illegal drug use, the organisation will provide a step-by-step guide for developing an effective drug policy and has so far conducted a series of forums in Victoria.
In 2014, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation received $18 million in Federal Government funding for the national rollout of its Good Sports program. It is now in more than 6000 clubs across Australia and accessing about 2 million members.
Geoff Munro, national policy manager at the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, said sporting clubs were often reluctant to develop a drug policy, because they were concerned about the reputational costs of recognising drug problems.
“Our response is that you could use the fact that you’ve got a drug policy to show that you are a club that’s proactive. You could turn that into an advantage,” Mr Munro said.
“Just by being a functional sporting club, you may be providing some protective factors … A sports club can be a community hub and can provide people with self-esteem. Just by being a functional spots club, you are contributing to a more cohesive community.”
Mr Munro said key measures for clubs developing an effective drug policy are:
On the North-West Coast of Tasmania, the Somerset Football Club has been leading the way in working to reduce alcohol and drug-related harm in the community.
This year, with support from Good Sports, the club developed its own illegal drug policy, spearheaded by Rod Groom, the club’s Junior Vice President.
“I did it to try and make our football club a safe and a good place for the small community of Somerset. For people to let their children come to the footy on Saturdays and watch the game, knowing it’s a safe and a good environment.” Mr Groom said.
“Gone are the days where you can have a booze-up. People are more responsible now.”
Mr Groom said the club’s approach to people with alcohol and drug problems had changed, with the club focusing more on prevention and inclusion. Recently, a young man attended a club event while heavily under the influence of drugs and caused an altercation at the club. He now plays football for them.
“If it had been 18 months ago, our attitude and our reaction to somebody like that would have been immediately to expel them from the club,” he said.
A randomised trial of 88 clubs that participated in the Good Sports alcohol management intervention found a significantly lower proportion of intervention club members reported risky alcohol consumption at the club and risk of alcohol-related harm.
Mr Munro said the illegal drug policy initiative was a natural extension of their work with alcohol.
“The reason we’re confident that sporting clubs can make a difference with an illegal drugs policy is because we’ve seen that the work that clubs do with alcohol has been effective. It reduces alcohol harm in sporting clubs, and the clubs become much friendlier, welcoming places in their community.”
In this issue of Public Health Research & Practice, researchers explore other avenues for reducing alcohol-related harm, including reducing trading hours for licensed premises, medicines for alcohol dependence and a telephone coaching service.