In 2010, Elizabethtown Area Communities That Care identified the use of alcohol and other drugs, by our youth, as a serious problem that was having a negative impact on the future of our youth and ultimately the health and safety of our community. We got busy researching the most effective methods for reducing youth substance abuse, which led to our application for and selection as one of only 700 coalitions across the nation to be a federally designated Drug Free Communities Coalition by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Drug Free Communities (DFC) is a congressional initiative born out of the recognition that the best way to reduce substance abuse is to have communities come together to create positive change. The 1997 Congressional Act established the Drug Free Communities Support Program, which falls under the direction of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Designation as a Drug Free Communities Coalition enabled our participation in a yearlong national training academy through the premier national organization “Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America” (CADCA). In addition to attending classes at one of three national training sites, we had multiple assignments to complete to verify that we understood and could implement “best science” strategies in fighting back against youth substance abuse.
What did we learn? Strong communities provide an environment for positive youth development. Just as youth behavior impacts the community, the health and values of the community have an impact on youth and their decision-making. When youth believe that adults view their unhealthy behaviors as “no big deal” they are more likely to start engaging in unhealthy behavior. Similarly if they believe it is unlikely there will be negative consequences for their behavior, they are more likely to risk trying the behavior. Kids are also more likely to engage in behaviors that they perceive all other kids are engaged in.
Drug Free Coalitions bring together collaborators within a community that have diverse perspectives, expertise, and resources. Our collaborators include: parents, youth, health care providers, youth service providers, enforcement agents, prevention specialists and educators, businesses, media, faith communities, volunteer organizations, and government agencies. These collaborations help us comprehensively address local problems with solutions that are tailored to the culture and environment of the Elizabethtown community. These strategies, programs and activities are aimed at changing community norms, attitudes and behaviors and reducing the availability of substances; thus serving as another pillar in our work to reduce youth substance abuse.