By Dianne Cornish
Hamilton Public Health Services (PHS) is stepping up its programs on the perils of teenage drinking in response to recommendations made a year ago by a coroner’s inquest into a Flamborough youth’s death from alcohol poisoning.
On Monday, city councilors sitting on the board of health endorsed the Services’ proposal to develop a multi-pronged local media campaign, which will increase public awareness and engage the Hamilton community in alcohol prevention strategies that will hopefully prevent similar deaths. The campaign will highlight the prevalence of underage binge drinking in the community, point out the legal consequences of underage drinking and highlight the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
The coroner’s jury recommendations were released almost a year ago after an inquest into the June 6, 2010 death of Chris Skinner, a 17-year-old Waterdown District High School (WDHS) student who died of acute alcohol poisoning after attending two parties where he reportedly drank heavily with other young people.
According to a report presented to the board of health, the first step in the media campaign will be the development and distribution of an information pamphlet, with an associated web-based format. The pamphlet, which will be focused on engaging parents, will be one part of the campaign, which will also include other public education activities highlighting the topics outlined in the recommendations.
“We’ll also be looking at other kinds of ways to reach youth” with messages about alcohol misuse, said Sue Connell, a manager in the healthy living division of the PHS who is spearheading the campaign.
Explaining that plans are still at the preliminary stage and the pamphlet is “a piece of a larger approach” to addressing the issue, she said PHS is working with the local school boards, Hamilton Police Services and Alternatives for Youth in developing an effective response to alcohol-related problems.
Flamborough Councillor Judi Partridge, a board of health member, welcomed the action proposed by PHS while also suggesting that much more will be done to address the problem of underage and binge drinking by youths. “It’s fine as a start; we need to do much more,” she told board members.
Skinner’s death was “very tragic,” she said, adding the work being undertaken by the PHS and groups, such as the Healthy-Community-Healthy Youth Flamborough (HC-HY), will ensure that Skinner has a legacy and won’t be forgotten. “This will be making a difference in our community.”
Penny Deathe and Lynda Wigood, co-chairs of the HC-HY initiative, attended the board of health meeting and were also pleased with the PHS’s proposal. “It supports everything we’re trying to do,” said Wigood.
Deathe said they support the initiative to “reach out to parents,” which is what the HC-HY group is also focused on. Last November, a parent focus group met at WDHS to discuss the issue of underage drinking in the community. “The inquest recommendations will be an integral part of the ongoing work engaging parents in the HC-HY project,” the PHS’s report states.
As certified Developmental Asset (DA) trainers, Deathe and Wigood will be directing two four-hour training sessions about developmental assets for 80 local parents, many of them coming from local school councils, beginning Feb. 23. Deathe said the initiative plans to reach out to parents through their involvement with sports organizations, service clubs, school groups, churches and businesses.
Community groups, school boards, police and the PHS are backing this approach.
The PHS was among groups attending the organizational meeting of the local HC-HY in Nov. 2009.
“We’re committed to serving that (HC-HY) initiative going forward,” said Connell, who also told the Review the public launch of the PHS’s media campaign will take place in November during Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week.
The PHS has committed to addressing all issues highlighted in the coroner’s report with the possible exception of a video documentary. While creation of the video is still being investigated, it might not be possible because of a pending civil suit related to Skinner’s death. “It hasn’t been ruled out,” Connell said, noting that contact with the family has been initiated and the PHS is dedicated to working with them, “in a respectful manner,” if they choose to participate in the production of the video.