|Thu, Jul 24, 2014 12:13 AM
May 14, 2014 | 09:47 AM
There is a nationwide epidemic that has begun to march across communities everywhere and it's not the flu, conjunctivitis or the plague, though in some places it may feel more like the latter.
In reality, it's not an illness at all. Instead, it is a growing dependence upon illegal drugs and alcohol. Big cities and small towns alike are facing a growing substance abuse influence and must now work to protect even the youngest members of their communities from the perils of addiction.
The Indiana Youth Institute had a Youth Worker Cafe at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park south of Marengo last month for parents, those involved in youth work, including community leaders, educators and counselors, and anyone else interested in working to positively impact the well-being of local youth to discuss youth substance abuse.
This presentation featured speakers Janna Hocker, the Communities That Care coordinator and former consultant with the Governor's Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana, who was on hand to present a report and community assessment compiled by the CTC coalition regarding youth substance abuse in Crawford and Harrison counties, as well as a community action plan.
Accompanying her was Katharine Sadler from the Indiana Prevention Resource Center.
"We want our kids to be invested in our community, and, in order to do that, we have to be invested in our community," Sadler said. "We have to help along the way."
Before launching into the community assessment, Hocker introduced attendees to two local organizations that work to combat negative youth issues within Harrison and Crawford counties with the help of a CTC grant.
Organized in 1990, the Crawford County Council for a Drug-Free Community and the Harrison County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition were organized as local coordinating councils in association with the Governor's Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana in response to alcohol and drug-abuse problems.
"We regularly have 12 to 18 members attend monthly meetings for both organizations," Hocker said.
Each coalition serves all residents of their respective county and has a membership made up of more than 25 individuals representing various sectors in the community, and the primary purpose of each coalition is the reduction of substance abuse through three avenues: prevention/education, law enforcement/justice and treatment/intervention.
"A vital function of each coalition is community education and resource building," Hocker said. "Throughout the year, they participate in many community events such as health fairs, town hall meetings and the county fair to raise the profile of the coalition and raise awareness about substance abuse."
The CCCDFC and the HCSAPC partnered in 2012 and received a CTC development grant from the SAPT Block Grant through FSSA/Division of Mental Health & Addiction in Indiana.
The groups were awarded $200,000 over a two-year time period beginning July 2012 to initiate the evidence-based prevention system called Communities That Care, with the HCSAPC utilizing its 501(c)(3) organization status to serve as the fiscal agent for grant.
The prevention system is made up of four phases and includes completing a community assessment, a community resource assessment and a community action plan. Recently, they received funding notification to implement a community action plan starting July 1.
Those action plans are important.
"We needed to do something to make an impact," Sadler said.
Hocker and Sadler explained that substance abuse is America's No. 1 public health problem.
"Adolescence is the critical period for the onset of substance use and its consequences," Hocker said. "The teen brain is more prone to risk-taking and more vulnerable to damage from substances."
According to the data, nine of every 10 people with a substance use disorder said they began smoking, drinking or using other drugs before age 18, and it was found that the earlier teens use any substance, the greater their risk for addiction becomes.
According to the Indiana Youth Survey — administered to students in grades 6 through 12 in all Crawford and Harrison County schools in the spring of 2012 — alcohol abuse is on the rise.
The CTC steering committee (made up of leaders from both counties) carefully examined the data collected for this assessment and considered such factors as impact (the greatest number affected) as well as outcome (realistic expectations for making a difference) when determining priorities.
"What we found is that both in Crawford and Harrison is that our students are using alcohol above the state average," Hocker said. "When most people hear 'substance abuse,' they automatically jump to drugs; that's not the case here."
Thirty-eight percent of youth on probation in Crawford County (six of 16 youth) and 16 to 18 percent of youth on probation and/or at the Alternative School in Harrison County (57 of 357 youth) are there because of substance abuse.
"You have to look at the population," Sadler said. "It seems like a high percentage, but, when dealing with these numbers, it is important to understand that a lower population will yield a higher percentage rate."
It is the coalition's goal to turn those numbers around by raising positive social interaction between peers and implementing a community reward for involvement programs.
Currently, Crawford County has programs available for fifth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, and Harrison has programs available for second-, fourth-, seventh- and 10th-grade students.
"Other than Red Ribbon Week, we currently do not have any universal prevention initiatives available," Hocker said. "While we have a good foundation of evidence-based prevention programming in our schools, we do not offer programming at every grade level."
That could all change with the implementation of programs like Faith Partners (a church involvement campaign) and positive interaction of youth with schools and businesses that utilize education materials such as the Search Institute's "150 Ways to Show Kids You Care."
"If students have one adult that they look up to, they are less likely to do drugs or alcohol," Hocker said.
To address the use of alcohol and binge drinking, both counties will expand and enhance existing tested and effective resources that address depressed protective factors by adding Footprints for Life in all Crawford County second-grade classrooms.
Both counties also will work to train key members in the correct party dispersal techniques, and each coalition is also offering a scholarship to a high school senior.
The pair also introduced some ways in which to help further the coalition's goals to keep children safe, including:
Talk with your children about substance abuse.
Educate yourself and your children about Indiana's Lifeline Law. This law provides immunity for some alcohol-related offenses, subject to certain conditions, to Hoosiers who request medical assistance for someone in need or receive medical assistance due to a request by someone else. The Lifeline Law now includes other substances besides alcohol.
Utilize drug drop boxes to get rid of unused medications and reduce access to minors. Boxes can be found at the Harrison County Sheriff's Dept. and the Milltown Police Dept.
Participate in the "150 Ways to Show Kids You Care" campaign.
The next meeting of the Crawford County Council for a Drug-Free Community will be Tuesday at 8 a.m. at Van's Country Table in Marengo. The next meeting for the Harrison County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition will be Wednesday, May 21, at 8:30 a.m. at the Harrison County Alternative School in Corydon.