Minister Mitchell O’Connor opens the inaugural REACT [Responding to Excessive Consumption of Alcohol in Third Level] awards in DCU

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today, 28 August, visited DCU and presented the students and staff in 10 of Ireland’s 3rd level institutions with awards in recognition of their efforts to reduce harm experienced by students from excess use of alcohol.

The Minister said: “I personally congratulate the ten higher education institutions involved in this ground-breaking initiative. The REACT initiative is an integral piece of work to ensure our higher education institutions provide safe environments when it comes to alcohol; helping students make healthier choices and to support a safe attitude to alcohol consumption. These ten winning institutions have strongly aligned themselves with my principles and ambitions for our higher education student’s wellbeing.

“In 2016 Irish people drank over 11 litres of pure alcohol per person per year. At least 75% of all alcohol consumed was during binge drinking sessions. Binge drinking remains a problem for our society, including for our student population. According to the World Health Organisation we have amongst the highest rate of binge drinking in the world. There is considerable evidence that some of the disinhibition that comes with drinking can result in unintended and riskier substance or drug taking. This phenomenon of increasing drug and substance use is a matter of real concern to me.”

In conclusion the Minister thanked the winning institutions on their innovative and thought provoking initiatives and concluded by saying, “I thank each and every institution for being leaders in this challenging arena and I look forward to continuing working with all the higher education institutions into the future as we endeavour to enhance our students’ health, welfare and wellbeing.”

REACT is an awards and accreditation scheme for 3rd level institutions who implement an action plan in partnership with their students and student leaders that seeks to reduce the adverse consequences of excess alcohol consumption. Institutions were required to complete 8 mandatory actions and pick from a larger suite of 18 optional actions to devise and implement their own institution-specific action plans rolled out over the past 4 years. In 2015, 15 of the country’s 3rd level institutions expressed an interest in committing to the programme, which was developed by UCC Health Matters in collaboration with the Union of Students in Ireland and the Irish Student Health Association and jointly funded by the HSE and the Philanthropic Tomar Trust. Over the 4 years 10 of the institutions continued their efforts and details of their actions were submitted for evaluation and accreditation by independent reviewers in June this year, with all 10 recognised at the awards ceremony today.

Amongst the many actions implemented across the institutions were the provision of an on-line behavioural change tool on alcohol for incoming first year students, the inclusion of alcohol and intoxication as a named hazard to be considered in planning and running large scale student events and the training of university staff in the delivery of screening and brief intervention therapy.

DCU introduced the option of alcohol-free accommodation for their students, and Letterkenny IT and IT Sligo partnered with the National Alcohol Forum in delivering the interventions, with REACT being the cornerstone of the Letterkenny local alcohol community action plan. UCC has a well-developed Student Community Support in operation where multiple pairs of trained students are on the streets surrounding campus at night ensuring their fellow-students are safer during nights and weeks of peak social activity. A key part of the success of the initiative has been the support of the Union of Students in Ireland and local student leaders in each of the participating institutions.

Dr. Michael Byrne, the Director of REACT from University College Cork commented, “REACT is about working in partnership with our students to address the issue of harms from excess alcohol. It is an innovative way of encouraging institutions to translate good intentions into actions and paper-based policies into whole institution plans.”

The institutions who received the REACT award were Dublin City University, IT Tralee, IT Sligo, Letterkenny IT, Limerick IT National University of Ireland, Galway, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork and University of Limerick.

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