With heroin use and overdoses running rampant throughout the state of Ohio and within Fayette County, several locals, including teenagers at Miami Trace and Washington high schools, and the Fayette County Community Action Commission (CAC), are helping to “PUSH4PREVENTION” and recently held an informational seminar for parents and community leaders.
According to information at the seminar, in 2014 as the heroin epidemic began to take hold, a local emergency room nurse, Mandy Waters, noticed an increase in the number of drug overdoses at the hospital. Concerned, she reached out to city and county leadership to hold a community forum about the problem. From that event, the Faith in Recovery Coalition was formed with representatives from city, county, and state government; the local health department; Fayette Recovery; law enforcement; probation; and other nonprofit and faith-based organizations.
According to the CAC planner, Christina Blair, the coalition was formed with the mission of creating a unified community response to prevent youth substance abuse and support the development of effective community programs to promote a safer, healthier, and drug free Fayette County. As the opioid epidemic continues to take so many lives, the coalition’s members answered the call to serve their community by doing what is possible to protect the community youth from falling victim to addiction.
Stephen White, a representative from Sen. Rob Portman’s office sitting on the committee, recommended that the coalition pursue becoming a “Drug Free Community.” When an opportunity came along in the summer of 2016, CAC applied for funds from the Department of Job and Family Services Healthier Buckeye program to work on the goals of the Faith in Recovery Coalition, which included the development of detox services, an inpatient treatment facility for men, sober housing (also known as recovery housing) for folks that did not have a home free of drugs to return to after receiving treatment, and bringing the coalition into alignment with the drug-free community standard. The Faith in Recovery Coalition decided to have prevention as a completely separate subcommittee.
The Drug Free Community standard was discussed during the seminar, which relies upon a 12-sector community coalition using the “Strategic Prevention Framework” and seven strategies for community level change.
During the seminar, Blair told the attendees that the coalition conducted a community readiness assessment to see how close Fayette County was to becoming a Drug Free Community. The assessment determined that the county was at the pre-planning stage and Blair said that this means the community needs more education and awareness programming.
“We also conducted individual level assessments by conducting a survey of sixth, eighth and 10th graders at the two local school districts and a survey of juvenile probationers,” Blair said. “Those surveys uncovered that our highest rates of use were in the 10th grade with 26 percent reporting using alcohol and 13 percent reporting using marijuana in the past 30 days. About 7 percent reported using a prescription that was not prescribed to them, whereas 32 percent of youth on probation reported using substances at the time of their arrest and over 50 percent have received probation violations by failing drug screens.”
According to Blair, the coalition also held focus groups with the community at large, the local schools, law enforcement, and with local youth. This uncovered what she said was a surprising fact: many youth are purchasing alcohol and tobacco from local retailers. Unsurprisingly, other sources were their friends and older peers. Kids frequently reported their disgust for heroin, but many believe that marijuana should be used to curb anxiety and that it is medicine, though Blair said many did not understand its impact on the brain before the frontal lobes are formed.
They were also able to perform an organizational assessment to create an inventory of community resources for the prevention and treatment of substance misuse disorders and conducted a policy review of the local school districts’ response to substance use in the schools. The findings suggest that the county lacks sufficient treatment resources and that while prevention programs already exist in the community, they were underutilized and needed additional funding to provide universal education to all students.
“Currently, both school districts have adequate protective systems put into place to curb youth substance use,” Blair said. “Drug dogs are used at Washington Court House, while Miami Trace relies upon a resource officer. Both schools also have appropriate plans to address substance use and Washington Court House has teams in each building to work together to assist youth that are identified as actively using.”
Through this process, school districts were able to share their challenges to inviting prevention providers into the schools and the coalition is working to find ways to partner with the schools while preserving their instruction time. To date, the coalition has prevention education scheduled for fourth and fifth grades at Miami Trace schools next year and should have the elementary schedule worked out in the next few weeks.
“We are still working out what can be done in the middle school. From talking to youth, we knew that we had to start in elementary and middle school, because most had made their decision to use before entering high school,” Blair said. “Both districts also signed off to support our 12-month action plan in our Drug Free Communities Grant application and supported the ADAMH board’s application to bring PAX Good Behavior game to both school districts to improve self-regulation skills, thus increasing protective factors for youth to stay substance-free.”
During the seminar it was also revealed that both Miami Trace High School and Washington High School have started Drug Free Youth organizations, Lead Out Loud at Miami Trace and Break Free at Washington Court House. During the seminar, students Kieara Hites, Hunter Howard, and Maddi Wallace, who are leading these efforts, spoke about their programs. They said that it gives them an opportunity to help fight the epidemic, but also allows students a safe and fun place to help fight addiction. Whether they join to make friends or to enjoy any number of other benefits including raffles and pizza, the coalition will work to ensure students stay away from drugs in Fayette County.
“I was really pleased with the number of people that showed up, of course I wish more could have been there,” Blair said. “I think the prevention message is very important. The whole purpose of this coalition is to change community norms and get people out there and talking about that. The kids who presented did great and I got a lot of positive feedback from the community. I think a lot of people are interested now to see what is coming next.”
Blair said that many of the next steps of the coalition include some help with an environmental scan, which is a project that will occur over the summer. A letter about the project said that a properly completed environmental scan, done through systematic surveys, will produce relevant information that can be used to identify opportunities and problems within the community. To make this all more fun, Blair and the youth coalitions will be mixing in a scavenger hunt.
Transportation to the events will be provided free of charge by Fayette County Transportation. The agency has one large vehicle that is available to pick youth up to attend the summer project. The CAC will purchase lunch and youth will be accompanied by adults to conduct a scan of local businesses. Transportation will be provided to all of the sites through Fayette County Transportation. Transportation home will also be provided, if desired. Otherwise, youth may be dropped off at noon and picked up at 2 p.m.
The scavenger hunts will take place on June 21, July 12 and Aug. 9. Each meeting will be held at the Commission on Aging at 1179 S. Elm St. in Washington Court House. Students who want to be involved must return a permission form by June 14.
To get involved in the coalition as a business sponsor or individual, volunteer to help with the environmental scan, or for more information about the coalition or the summer project, contact Blair at 740-335-7282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a full description of the Strategic Prevention Framework, please visit the prevention coalition’s page on CAC’s website at www.cacfayettecounty.org/faith-in-recovery-prevention-committee/.
The information in this article was provided by Christina Blair.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy