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SAPT set to learn its fate

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The Rainy River District Substance Abuse Prevention Team will find out its fate tomorrow (March 26) when Finance minister Dwight Duncan delivers the 2009 Ontario budget.

The program’s funding expires March 31—and there’s been no firm commitment from the province at this point as to whether it will continue.

“We’ve gotten no re-funding notices and we’re down to the last 11 days before we run out of funding,” SAPT co-ordinator Hugh Dennis noted late last week.

“We’ve had a verbal comment that we were going to get re-funded, but there’s been nothing in writing,” he stressed. “The line was it’s going to get re-funded contingent on March 26.

“If it’s not in the budget of March 26, we’re done,” Dennis added. “If it is, we’re going to be around for another year, and they’re going to take a look at the program within the year to see how it’s doing.”

The question remains whether the province will continue the FOCUS program, which is an initiative of the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Branch of the Ministry of Health Promotion.

The goal of the FOCUS program is to prevent problems, including injuries, associated with alcohol and other drug abuse.

The local SAPT is one of 22 sites currently supported by the FOCUS program, which has a budget of about $2.4 million to be distributed amongst the sites.

Since its inception in 1998, FOCUS also has received more than $4 million in in-kind donations.

Dennis noted FOCUS funding is split between all 22 sites (about $100,000 per community) for substance abuse prevention and programming, plus funding to operate the FOCUS Resource Centre.

But if that funding is not renewed, there will a gap in education and awareness of drugs and alcohol.

He added that, in the bigger picture, the funding really isn’t that great of a cost for the province when one considers the benefits of the programming.

“It’s something to all these communities. We try to support local organizations and do prevention work in the schools and the reserves and communities,” Dennis remarked.

The local SAPT works in conjunction with more than 60 partners, and is involved in programs ranging from the “chem-free” grad, P.A.R.T.Y., and D.A.R.E. to “Smart Serve” training, “Grab-A-Cab” and the designate driver program, and the Parents Against Illicit Narcotics (PAIN) support group.

Dennis said the local SAPT certainly has community support behind it, as was evident last November and December when he collected petition signatures and letters of support for the program.

“I think it’s fair to say that the Substance Abuse Prevention Team does appreciate all the letters of support and the local folks that signed the petition,” he said.

“I will be getting back to the community with the results of the budget, one way or the other,” he pledged.

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