Drug council tackling new challenges

Like many people on the island, Catherine Chesnut’s world was turned upside down by the hurricane. It meant a difficult three-month separation from her 20-month-old son and taking on the daunting task of rebuilding the National Drug Council (NDC) where she serves as CEO and co-coordinator.

The council’s Paddington Place headquarters were flattened by the storm with most of its contents destroyed including its library and promotional materials.

‘It’s probably easier to say what we didn’t lose,’ Chesnut said in a recent interview. ‘Pretty much everything was gone.’

Fortunately, they were able to retrieve their computer server and save the council’s extensive research data on drug abuse on the island.

That included, among others, a comprehensive study on substance abuse in the workplace aimed at developing guidelines for companies to set drug policies. In the works for about two years, the Drug Free Workplace Survey collected data through confidential questionnaires completed voluntarily by more than 700 employees in various businesses across the island.

Now back on track in new offices at the Compass Centre on Shedden Road, Chesnut said the report – which was sidelined by the storm – will be released soon.

It’s among several projects the council has been undertaking since Ivan, which has presented some new challenges for Chesnut. Among them: how to best address the changing needs of the community.

One concern is that with many students now attending school in morning or afternoon shifts, it’s left a big gap in structured programming.

‘There are a lot of young people who have free time for a significant portion of the day and this is something we are particularly worried about. There are young people at home unsupervised because the parents are at work.’

The council is looking to organize an activities programme but finding space has been difficult. ‘Our major problem – like everybody else – is finding a venue.’

Drinking on the rise

With a growing number of stress-related problems – including a rise in drinking – the council has been working with other agencies to help people cope. It assisted with the launch of the community-based peer support groups last month by the Ministry of Health and is also working with the Ministry in setting up a 1-800 hotline number to help people experiencing difficulties.

‘We are trying to put a mechanism in place where we can be as flexible as possible with whatever problems emerge,’ said Chesnut.

‘We’ve never been through a crisis like this before so we can’t be entirely pro-active because it’s not a predictable scenario. We don’t know totally how people are going to react.’

She said it has been beneficial having the council also function as a Disaster Assistance Centre (DAC).

‘It has allowed us the advantage of hearing from people in the community what their particular circumstances and needs are.’

Alcohol-awareness training

Other initiatives include introducing Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS), an international certification programme that teaches alcohol servers and retailers the necessary skills to prevent alcohol abuse, driving under the influence and underage drinking. Several resorts and hotels have signed on.

‘The response we’ve gotten has just been tremendous.’

It has organized a No Booze Cruise for young people on 12 February and is planning to boost its visibility in the community through ongoing educational programming.

‘We are going to be out in the community a lot.’

Chesnut said fundraising will be another focus, including a corporate sponsorship campaign.

‘We have to look at other sources of funding because our budget has been affected.’

The council – a multi-disciplinary body that works with other agencies involved in anti-drug intervention – has been continuing its educational programming while launching the council – a multi-disciplinary body that works with other agencies involved in anti-drug intervention – has been continuing its educational programming while launching some new initiatives.

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