Drug-Free Coalitions: Why a Community Approach is Needed for Prevention

While millions of people drink alcohol and use illicit drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, the misuse of prescription pain relievers and more, the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a clearer picture of just how many people develop a disorder as a result of their use.  According to the results:

  • More than 20 million people, or one in 13 people, aged 12 or older suffered from a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in the past year.
  • More than 15 million, or one in 17, had an alcohol use disorder.
  • More than 7 million had an illicit drug use disorder.

SUD can lead to impaired judgment, an increase in risky behavior and potential health issues, all of which can worsen job or school performance, personal relationships and negatively impact a person’s lifestyle.

For some, alcohol and drug use begins during adolescent years. About one in 10 adolescents aged 12 to 17 claimed they drank alcohol in the last month, according to the 2015 SAMHSA report. Usage increases among older demographics, with nearly four million young adults (10%) between 18 and 25 suffering from an alcohol use disorder.

Combating usage among teens is vital, as it could prevent these types of disorders from developing. It’s exactly why organizations nationwide are stepping up to increase prevention efforts.

Everyone, including police officers, teachers, substance abuse counselors, local business owners, parents and volunteers, can make a difference and prevent young people from going down the wrong path. It takes a community approach to be effective, according to Florida Tech psychology professor and PTSD/substance use psychologist Natalie Fala:

“Substance use tends to be a really isolating condition, especially when people have been really active in their addiction for a long time. So, we want to get them back out in their communities, engaged, and allowing themselves to feel fulfilled in meaningful activities…because it’s believed that those activities will crowd out that substance use so that its’ no longer a primary focus or driver in their lives.”

Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program

In September 2017, the White House Drug Policy awarded $89 million to 719 community coalitions across the country, the highest number of recipients in the program’s history, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“We’re losing more than 60,000 people per year to drug overdose, but if we can stop young people from starting to use drugs in the first place, we can save lives,” stated Richard Baum, Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy, in a 2017 Office of National Drug Control Policy press release.

Programs and coalitions are proving to be effective. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, past 30-day misuse of prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana have significantly decreased among all program recipients since the program was created by the Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997.

Among middle school students alone:

  • Alcohol use declined by 27%
  • Tobacco use declined by 32%
  • Marijuana use declined by 14%
  • Illicit prescription drug use declined by 11%

One such program in Florida, the Alachua County Health Promotion and Wellness Coalition, has a campaign called “Friday Night Done Right” which hosts alcohol and drug-free events for local kids and teens. The local coalition also provides town hall meetings, collaborates with law enforcement for compliance checks and provides responsible server and vendor training opportunities.

Other programs conducted at coalitions across the country include teacher and parent education and training initiatives.

How You Can Make a Difference

Anyone can volunteer and become involved with local drug-free coalitions. However, specific professionals can aid in different ways.

Law enforcement officers can contact local city or county drug-free coalitions and request information about volunteering at community education events such after-school programs, prescription drug “take-back” events and volunteering at local schools. Police officers can also dedicate their time and participate in mentorship programs to provide guidance and support for adolescents.

School and youth counselors and other professionals that work in child advocacy can also volunteer at local events and participate in mentorship programs. Due to their positioning within the schools and social services sector, some can even help improve education and spearhead policy changes at the local school level. According to the 2016 National Evaluation End-Of-Year Report, nearly 27% of DCF coalitions successfully promoted changes to 131 drug-free school policies.

Local business owners can help by participating in youth employment programs and vendor training for owners and employees. Nearly 37% of DFC coalitions provided business training, including server compliance and training on youth-marketed alcohol products, according to the 2016 DFC report.

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