Drug Free Communities: Preventing Teen Substance Use
Coalitions must include representatives from almost a dozen sectors: youth, parents, the business community, media, schools, youth-serving organizations, law enforcement agencies, religious or fraternal organizations, civic and volunteer groups, health care professionals, and state, local, or tribal governmental agencies with expertise in the substance abuse field.
The coalitions are like flocks of geese, said Mr. Koscinski. “If an individual goose tried to fly from the outer reaches of Canada to South America, it would never make it,” he explained. “But when geese come together and fly in formation, they can fly farther.” Similarly, he said, police working alone aren’t enough. When they join forces with kids, parents, schools, and others, they can build on each other’s strengths and make an impact.
Young people themselves play a critical role in the program, emphasized Mr. Koscinski. “Kids are part of both the problem and the solution,” he said, noting that young people know what will work best to keep their peers away from alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
Getting young people involved also is a protective factor in itself for both those involved and those who see that young person as a role model, he added. “To have kids at the table with the school board president, the police chief, and all the other players in a community gives them leadership opportunities,” he said. “They don’t have to be part of a norm that says drug and alcohol use is okay.”
The National Community Anti-Drug Coalition Institute provides training and technical assistance to grantees. Founded in 2002, the institute is part of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, VA. Its work is to strengthen the capacity of community coalitions.
In addition, the Drug Free Communities Mentoring program is preparing a new generation of coalitions.
Currently, 31 well-established Drug Free Communities grantees are serving as mentors to developing or newly formed coalitions that have not yet received a Drug Free Communities grant. “We’re building a critical mass of these coalitions,” said Mr. Koscinski.
So far, the coalition approach appears to be working quite well.
An ONDCP-funded interim evaluation shows that the program is effective in preventing substance use and abuse among teens. The evaluation compared data from Drug Free Communities grantees to national data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which includes a national school-based survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), plus surveys conducted by state, territorial, tribal, and local education and health agencies.
According to the analysis, the number of high school students who report having used alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana in the last month is significantly lower in coalition communities than the national average.
The current use rates in Drug Free Communities areas declined between 2006 and 2007. And while drug use among teens has been declining across the Nation as a whole, it’s dropping faster in communities with Drug Free Community coalitions.
The evaluation included additional findings:
- Alcohol use. Average youth alcohol use in coalition communities is more than 23 percent lower than the national average.
- Tobacco use. Annual tobacco use is 10 percent lower in coalition communities than the national average.
- Marijuana use. Current marijuana use among high schoolers in coalition communities is almost 10 percent lower than the reported national average.
“At a glance, you can see that these numbers show the effectiveness of the Drug Free Communities program. Each community’s efforts are a step in the right direction,” said Ms. Harding.
For more information, visit the Drug Free Communities Web site.