A community effort to combat youth substance abuse in Carter County has been so successful in recent years, the coalition has received funding to continue its work for another five.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy announced last week the Carter County Drug Free Coalition has been awarded a $125,000 grant. The funds will provide training to community members, parents and school officials, along with law enforcement. It will also support the Carter County School District’s prevention curriculum, which children in grades three through nine receive.
The CCDF was founded in 2006, following an educational summit where drug abuse was identified as a significant issue affecting education outcomes in the county, said Pathways employee and grant coordinator Shelly Steiner. Under pressure to get the district’s test scores up, educators began looking at the underlying reasons students were failing to perform.
Again and again, substance abuse was at the core of the issue, she said. For example, Steiner said, parents with drug problems weren’t getting their children to school on time or at all. Students were going hungry because money for food was going to buy drugs. Children were falling asleep in class because of things that happened at their homes the night before. All those factors were pushing down scores, Steiner said.
Realizing it would take the community to solve the problem, the coalition formed and began working to educate the public.
“In the beginning we did a massive media campaign to bring out the problems and then people got on board to make it better,” Steiner said. In addition to implementing the drug-free curriculum, the coalition rolled out about 30 other initiatives and strategies reaching stakeholders throughout the area.
Carter County’s test scores started to rise, and students self-reported their own use of drugs and other substances was going down.
Based on results of Kentucky Incentives Project Student Surveys, between 2004 and 2012, Carter County reduced the reported 30-day, one-year and lifetime use of prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and Oxycontin by eighth- 10th- and 12th-grade students with a few exceptions.
In most categories, usage rates dropped by double digits, particularly for tobacco, prescription drugs and Oxycontin usage. The coalition had the best success with reducing rates across all measures for eighth-graders and 10th-graders.
Among 12th graders, surveys revealed only alcohol usage failed to decrease. In 2006, 24 percent of seniors reported using alcohol within the last 30 days; in 2012 the rate was 33 percent. However, that was down from a peak of 38 percent in 2008.
The results were similar for past-year and lifetime use. In 2006, 53 percent of 12th-graders reported using alcohol in the past year, while 66 percent said they had used it at least once in their lifetimes. By 2012, those rates had grown to 62 percent and 74 percent, respectively.
Lifetime usage rates of marijuana also rose among 12th-graders during that time period. According to survey results, in 2006, 37 percent reported having used the drug in their lifetimes, while 43 percent reported in 2012 they had used the drug. However, 30-day and one-year usage rates were down.
Steiner said those results, particularly the success reducing prescription drug and tobacco use, has prompted the coalition to shift focus for the next five years.
“The first five years, we focused on prescription drugs, tobacco and alcohol. The next five years we are going to focus on alcohol and marijuana and keep up with prescription drugs,” Steiner said.
She said the coalition will soon roll out another aggressive public awareness campaign that will utilize a variety of traditional and new media strategies, including social media.
With Grayson poised to begin selling alcohol, the timing couldn’t be better.
“We want to prevent access to our youth and prevent over-serving,” said Steiner, noting the CCDFC has worked with city officials to put a number of controls in place to prevent both. Among the measures aimed at youth prevention are responsible server training and keg registration.
“We also help out with funding for DUI checks by local (police) departments and drug suppression training for local law enforcement agencies, as well as school, parent and adult training,” Steiner said.
Pam Kouns, the district’s community education director, said the funding announcement is important to implementing sustainable, long-term change in the community.
“I think initially and still, a lot of people think the drug problem can be solved overnight, and it can’t,” Kouns said. “It is really about changing the norms in the community, getting people to think differently about things and concentrating back on the beginning.
“The best part about this is this community coalition was started without money, and we had some amazing people who were go-getters who had a passion for making Carter County better. So this funding was the icing on top of the cake,” Steiner said.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.