A drug and alcohol awareness forum put on by local sporting clubs attracted a big crowd on Wednesday.By Zach Hubber
It was standing room only long before the start of Wednesday’s Drug and Alcohol Awareness Information Night at the Moama Bowling Club.
A sea of black, green, yellow and blue representing the Moama, Echuca and Echuca United football and netball clubs united as one as they listened and asked questions about the effects of alcohol and drugs in their community.
But there were also plenty of non-aligned members of the community and their families who came seeking to learn more.
All up, close to 450 attended.
Echuca Primary School principal Paul Hon MC’d the event and former Victoria Police Purana Taskforce leader Jim O’Brien led a host of guest speakers.
Mr O’Brien spoke candidly about the prevalence of drugs in Victoria, portrayed the real side-effects of drugs with graphic imagery and highlighted the importance of looking after friends who were at risk of overdose.
Images of drug users rapidly deteriorating over time due to crystal methamphetamine, or ‘ice’, and stories of families’ loss gripped the audience.
Mr O’Brien also spoke about how Australia was a ‘‘pill-popping’’ society and how drug traffickers and dealers exploited this trait.
Mr Hon read a powerful poem about ice use before introducing Echuca Regional Health counsellor Wendy Howe.
Ms Howe showed a video detailing the stages of ice use and spoke about the resources available to the community to get help and get clean.
Counsellor Dean Curtis, who spent 15 years as a Salvation Army officer, reiterated what facilities were available to the community and offered advice to families and individuals to deal with drug use.
The evening ended with a Q and A seminar between the audience and guest speakers, which also included Echuca Senior Detective Bernie Quinlan and Moama Senior Constable Fleur Riordan.
Echuca United coach Scott Beattie and Moama coach Simon Maddox roamed the crowd with microphones as questions were fired at the panel.
A discussion about moving forward and dealing with the issue took place before the two-hour event finished.
Mr Beattie, who was a key organiser behind the evening, said he was rapt with the night.
‘‘(It was) fantastic to see three footy clubs and the wider community all in the same room,’’ he said.
‘‘I was pretty nervous trying to get a gauge on what the community actually thought about the problem and pretty much trying to fill the room considering we had the experts here with all the information.’’
But Mr Beattie said it was only the start.
‘‘We have to do a bit of a review and get the information that was brought in here tonight out into the public,’’ he said.
‘‘With so many people in such a small area, we need to be a bit proactive with our policies in terms of footy clubs.
‘‘If we can stamp it out, it goes a long way to stopping the problem.’’
Mr O’Brien has been speaking to communities about drug awareness for the past 10 years and said he did not think there was a family in the country who had not been affected by illicit drug use at some point.
‘‘I think it gets the community out there discussing the issue openly,’’ he said.
‘‘There was no punches pulled and I think that’s a great awareness thing. The more information people get, the more they can do something about it.’’
He said if people were informed they had greater chance to act.
‘‘They can start to wonder, ‘Well, why does my kid act that way?’’’ he said.
‘‘Why is my kid not sleeping? Why’s he awake for three days? Why doesn’t he come home? Why does he stay at his mate’s house?’’
The audience spilled out to the corridors and lounges following the event, where attendees continued the discussion with each other.
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