Pier 21 prevents substance abuse

The Center for Alcohol and Drug Education opened 10 years ago with a university grant to carry out surveys on campus to find out what students were doing, and put out occasional newsletters and flyers. Today, thanks to an annual anonymous donation it began receiving four years ago, they are a full service center providing all the substance abuse education on campus.

“Students are very educated about alcohol and drug issues,” said Jennifer Brack, Assistant Dean of Students and supervisor of the center. “They know it can happen, but don’t believe it can happen to them.”

Brack says the center focuses on providing information and education as well as changing the attitudes many students have toward drugs and alcohol. This year, Brack says, her work will highlight the importance of taking care of each other, being responsible not only for ourselves but our friends around us.

Substance abuse is a community issue, Brack said, and requires a community effort.

The center, known as Pier 21, for its role in “Prevention, Intervention, Education and Referral,” has two main components.

The first is to create all the drug and alcohol awareness campaigns for the school, involving a constant stream of information from monthly newsletters, flyers and posters, to putting on programs and forums where students can talk about alcohol and drug issues.

The other element, Brack said, is the unique Anonymous Referral System. If a student, faculty member or staff member is concerned about a student who seems to have alcohol or drug issues, they can refer the student to the center. The student will be called in to discuss the issues and whether any other intervention is needed. This is not a discipline situation, Brack stressed. Sometimes a visit to the center is enough, however, for more serious substance abuse problems, the student may need to visit the counseling center on campus or the South Miami Addiction Center.

Brack runs the center with a part-time graduate assistant. President Donna Shalala has appointed a commission on drug and alcohol issues with representatives from the students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and the community. Another graduate assistant will be hired to evaluate Pier 21’s programs and services. This will include focus groups and surveys to discuss the success of the centers’ contribution.

Two other organizations, BACCHUS and GAMMA, also play an important role in alcohol and drug awareness education at the University of Miami. These are national associations of peer educators who concentrate on increasing awareness within their communities. Brack emphasized the important role BACCHUS plays during Alcohol Awareness Week in October, Safe Spring Break Week in March and in a number of other outreach programs throughout the year. GAMMA is an association of fraternity and sorority members who encourage people to come together and talk about risk management within their communities. During Safe Spring Break Week, GAMMA holds a candlelight vigil to pay tribute to those who lost their lives to drunk driving. Last year, the center trained 33 new peer educators who will join the team in the Fall semester.

Also last year, Pier 21 completed a campus-wide survey, the results of which will be published in the Fall. There were questions on whether students drink, how often, what they drink and what they think other students are doing. Brack said the answers to the last question may surprise students, because generally students think that everyone’s drinking and that many people are using drugs.

“But that’s really not the case when you look at how many people are actually doing it,” Brack said.

The survey also dealt with the negative consequences of alcohol use, from sexual assaults that happen under the influence, to how drinking impacts schoolwork. Other questions included whether or not drinking has caused students to get into disciplinary trouble or led to an arrest or fight.

“It will provide a pulse as to what the community is dealing with where drugs and alcohol are concerned,” Brack said.

In October, Pier 21 will hold the annual Alcohol Awareness Week. This year, comedian Justin McKinney will talk about how drugs and alcohol have impacted his life. As in earlier years, local paramedics will set up a drunk-driving simulation for students.

The Pier 21 center is located in the Student Services Building, Room 21 E. It also houses a resource room, open to all members of the University community, with videos, literature and referral material that can be used in research for a paper or just for personal information.

For more details, log onto the centers website, http://www.miami.edu/pier21.