ASCC-SGA Hosts Drug & Alcohol Awareness Workshop
October 3, 2016
By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer
Every September, the nationwide Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration sponsors Recovery Month to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who recover. Networking with local Human Service organizations, the Student Government Association (SGA) in collaboration with the Health and Human Services Department at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) sponsored a Drug and Alcohol Awareness Workshop last week to underscore the problem of substance dependency in the community and to share information on the options available to those seeking assistance.
In keeping with the theme of “Join the Voices for Recovery: Our Families, Our Stories, Our Recovery,” guest speakers included Mrs. Tuumafua O. Maiava, Assistant Director of the Special Projects and Community Assistance Division of the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS); Mr. Tunoa Peteli, DHSS Prevention Specialist; Mr. Robert Toelupe, Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the Department of Veterans Affairs; and Mrs. Judy Matautia, Program Specialist with the Alliance for Strengthening Families. Mr. Wilfredo Tuiasosopo, DHSS Data Specialist, joined his colleagues in the workshop to provide support.
Prior to the guest speakers, Ms. Elena Tavai, SGA Student Representative to the Board of Higher Education, shared information recently compiled from a survey of ASCC students on alcohol and drug awareness. The SGA developed the 11-question survey in collaboration with Human Services instructor Mr. Derek Helsham, and collected a total of 300 responses. With the processing of the survey still in progress at the time of the workshop, Ms. Tavai could still share data based on 90 of the collected responses. According to this preliminary data, 76 out 90 responders answered yes to the first question, “Is there a drug problem here in ASCC or on island?” When asked if they know of recovery options, more than half of the respondents (43) answered no, and when asked if they know of someone who needs to recover, 53 out of 90 answered yes.
With the survey results having established the urgent need for recovery services in our community, next Mrs. Maiava spoke about the challenges faced by DHSS in addressing this issue. She shared that to date DHSS has focused its efforts on prevention, offering its services primarily to those under 18, whereas when trying to provide recovery options for the adult population, an information gap exists which the agency is trying to address. Next, Mr. Tunoa offered a simple exercise to illustrate the effects of substance abuse. He asked everyone to take a sheet of paper and write down the four things that mean the most to them on four corners, and then divide the sheet into four separate pieces. Next, he asked the audience to choose one of the four written items they would give up if they had to. Repeating the process until the audience each had only one piece of paper left, Mr. Tunoa explained how the exercise represents what substance abuse takes away from a person – first the things that don’t mean much, but gradually the things that mean more and finally the things that mean the most.
Mr. Toelupe, who has counseled veterans that face challenges with substances, shared how a common factor in many of his cases is the patient’s difficulties with processing painful emotions, including the shame and guilt of admitting they need help. He described his approach to treatment as a “partnership in learning” with his patients, in which he enables them to discover for themselves the root of their difficulties over a period of time, rather than making an immediate diagnosis based on surface impressions. Mrs. Matautia rounded off the presentations by explaining the mission of the Alliance, which functions not as a service provider itself, but rather as a resource to aid victims of domestic and sexual violence in finding the appropriate assistance available to them in the community. Funded by the Department of Justice, the Alliance seeks to increase community awareness of the causes of violence and foster means of prevention. One such means of prevention is addressing substance abuse issues before they escalate into violent behavior.
Human Services instructor Mr. Derek Helsham said that he would like to see more workshops of this type in the future. “An event like this increases student awareness of important community issues, and also familiarize students interested in health careers with the local agencies tasked with addressing mental and physical health concerns,” he reflected. With October designated as Domestic Violence Prevention Month, there will be a workshop on that topic on Friday, October 21st, at noon in the ASCC Lecture Hall. The campus sponsors for this event will be the Social Science Department in collaboration with the Psychology Club.