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Group seeks funds to tackle teen drinkers

Agency addresses underage drinking and substance abuse

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Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 11:11 am

With fingers crossed, the North Coast Prevention Works Coalition waits for August to come.

The coalition addresses underage drinking and substance abuse in Clatsop County and will soon find out if they’ve been awarded a $125,000 federal grant from the Drug Free Communities Program.

The funding would go to continue underage drinking and drug abuse prevention in the county and bring together a broad spectrum of community involvement.

“It’s about as collaborative as you can get,” said Debbie Morrow, coalition member and Warrenton-Hammond School District Board member, about the grant. “It really is an overall comprehensive picture.”

Working coalition

The coalition formed to unite several task forces and committees within the county in 2009. Under the umbrella of the coalition, underage drinking, tobacco use and suicide prevention were brought together.

Seaside Police Chief Bob Gross said that the various groups were finding problems to be interrelated within the community.

“From there, we decided to create North Coast Prevention Works to bring all these people together,” said Gross.

In order to qualify for the federal grant, the coalition had to show a history of their efforts to reduce alcohol and drug use among youths. The committees and task forces have implemented strategies and initiatives for years in Clatsop County.

The Reduce Underage Drinking Task Force has worked to enforce the underage drinking laws in Oregon by bottle tagging, a measure to inform adults not to buy or give alcohol to underage youths. The program includes participation from students in Key Clubs and has also sent in decoys to buy alcohol as underage kids.

“Another thing we’ve done is public service announcements on the radio, using kids’ voices with the target being on parents,” said Jill Quackenbush, prevention supervisor with the Clatsop County Juvenile Department.

A lot of the problem is access, said Mary Jackson, chairwoman-elect of the coalition. Much of what the coalition does is educating parents about locking up their liquor cabinets, for instance, and their prescriptions drugs.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and police officers from departments within the county visited school classrooms to talk about the effects of underage drinking. Warrenton Police Chief Mathew Workman, the chairman of the coalition, visited Warrenton Grade School to give the presentations.

“We’ve been doing that for five or six years,” Gross said about the prevention effort. “We go in and show them the effects of alcohol on their brain and we give them some fun things to do.” He added that they give students a chance to ask questions as well.

The coalition also has a subcommittee that focuses on prescription drugs. The group developed a presentation about the subject and they educate people on prescription drop boxes that are set up at the Astoria Police Department as well as Warrenton’s, Seaside’s and Cannon Beach’s departments.

“We actually participated in one of the first prescription take-back days in the nation,” Jackson said. Saturday was National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

Drug use remains a consistent issue the coalition addresses as well. Gross said he’s seen drug use come full circle during the eight years he’s been with the Seaside Police Department, from marijuana to cocaine, heroin to methamphetamine, and then prescription drugs.

“It seems like it’s made its full cycle back to heroin,” he said, “simply because it’s cheaper than methamphetamine now.”

The grant

The coalition has applied for the Drug Free Communities Program grant before, twice to address Clatsop County prevention broadly and once for Warrenton.

To qualify for the grant, a long-term plan is developed, representation from 12 sectors of the community is achieved and participation in the National Evaluation of the DFC program is required.

“We scored really high last year,” Jackson said. “It was 86 out of 100.”

This year the coalition applied for Warrenton again.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy disperses the DFC grant to communities around the country. For the 2012 fiscal year, $7.9 million in new grants were given to 60 community coalitions out of 364 applicants. The program also continues administering funding, with $76.7 million being given in 2012 to 608 coalitions already enrolled in the program.

“Our hope is to use Warrenton as a pilot and start to demonstrate the effectiveness here,” Quackenbush said.

She said that the idea is to acquire grants for each Clatsop County city.

“You also have to have a way to measure your long-term outcomes, which is done through the student wellness survey,” said Quackenbush. She added that not all county schools participate in the survey, which is partly why Warrenton was chosen for the pilot.

The recurring grant doles out up to $625,000 over five years for youth prevention efforts. Jackson said that because it’s a recurring grant, there are some years when there’s less money.

“Other years, as people phase out, then there’s more grant money available,” she said. “So, this year is a little more promising.”

The funds would go to a grant project coordinator, a youth program coordinator, used to assist projects and would also bring different trainings to increase community involvement.

In November, the coalition hosted an event held at the Warrenton Grade School gymnasium that had Professor Eric Martin and former Miss Teen Oregon Jewell Ledford talk about underage drinking, drug use and youth development.

“We talked about bringing environmental training, social norms training and doing another town hall,” Jackson said about future use of the grant.

According to the data, Quackenbush said youth alcohol use remains the prime concern in Clatsop County.

Quakenbush said that DFC program’s main focus is on preventing youth substance abuse, but it is also comprehensive and you can’t focus on just one drug of choice.

“Their focus is preventing youth substance abuse – that has to be part of your mission,” she said. “We need to make sure we’re addressing that, but that can’t be the only thing we’re addressing.”

Mobilizing the community is a big part of the grant’s overall application. Involvement from religious, fraternal, youth, health care and other community sectors is part of prevention efforts with the grant.

“The sectors are the vehicle that we use to get the message out,” Morrow said. “They are our ground zero when we want to reach a broad population.”

With the different perspectives you get to tap into an array of perspectives, she said.

“It really represents the community’s identity,” Morrow said. “I think that’s why they have this cross section.”

Morrow mentioned that it reaches a holistic approach, caring for children and addressing issues as they develop and get older.

“They want to make sure the process is thoroughly comprehensive,” she said.

Changing norms

The key part of the coalition’s mission is to change perceptions and ways of thinking that can lead to substance abuse and underage drinking.

The grant would help with outreach and community awareness. Coalition members said that, with underage drinking, some parents see it as a rite of passage when children become teenagers.

“What our data was showing is our efforts with the retail establishments were working and the kids weren’t getting their alcohol from the stores; they were getting it from home, either with or without the parent’s knowledge,” Quackenbush said. She said that is why educating parents is important.

The coalition also has to address the perceived norms that youth encounter.

“If youth keep hearing out there that everybody in Clatsop County is using alcohol and drugs, they’re more likely to use alcohol and drugs because that’s the norm that we’re putting out there for them,” Quackenbush said.

Last year, for National Drug Facts Week, Warrenton High School students worked with a counselor to come up with a trivia game for middle school and grade school students. The game provided facts about drug use and the older kids were good examples for them, Jackson said.

“It was great,” she said. “They really enjoyed it.”

Quackenbush said that prior to middle school is a great time to begin prevention efforts.

“But we also focus on middle school as well,” she said. “It’s such a volatile time for the families because developmentally they’re first starting to pull away from the parents.” It happens to be when they want their parents the most, she added.

Clatsop County gave a $9,960 grant to the coalition to implement the Strengthening Families Program, which begins May 7.

“That brings the parents as well as the youth together to really work on strengthening the family and continuing to build that foundation so that when the kids are older there’s that foundation for communication,” Quackenbush said.

According to the DFC evaluations for the past eight years, communities funded by the $125,000 grant have seen reductions in alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use.

“Everybody has their own idea about what to do,” said Quackenbush. “But there’s scientific proof about what works.”

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