$125,000 grant awarded to Blount County Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team

The Blount County Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team recently was awarded the Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant for $125,000 per year, for a potential of up to 10 years, to address substance abuse among youth in Blount County - specifically alcohol use and prescription medication abuse.

The grant was issued to Blount Memorial Hospital, which is the fiscal agent of the Blount County Community Health Initiative, by the Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP). The Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team is one of seven action teams in the Community Health Initiative.

The action team plans to meet substance abuse prevention goals through this grant, including:

• Establishing and strengthening the collaboration among the team’s partner organizations in support of Blount County’s effort to prevent and reduce substance use among youth

• Reducing substance use among youth in Blount County, and over time, reducing substance abuse among adults by addressing the community issues that increase the risk of substance abuse and promoting the factors that minimize the risk of substance abuse

The Blount County Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team plans to achieve these goals through enhancing enforcement practices and through a media awareness campaign.

“Our focus of the substance abuse prevention efforts through this grant is on Blount County’s youth,” Blount Memorial community outreach coordinator Judy Clabough explains. “Our hope is that when you change the perceptions and behaviors of our youth, it will lead to changes among adults in our community.”

Surveys show that Blount County’s youth who use and abuse drugs don’t usually start experimenting with illicit drugs, but begin using legal substances that are easily available - including alcohol and over-the-counter and prescription medications.

According to a 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 46 percent of 6th to 12th graders drank more than a few sips of alcohol before the age of 15; 29 percent confirmed the use of alcohol in the last 30 days; and 19 percent of 6th to 12th graders had, on at least one occasion in the previous two weeks, consumed five or more drinks in a row. In a 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, there was a perception by 64 percent of 6th to 12th graders of little risk of being caught by police if they drank alcohol.

Similar to alcohol in its availability, medications are becoming a drug of choice for youth. Reports from the 2008 Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges indicate a growing problem with misuse of medications in Blount County, with 76 juvenile referrals for possession of controlled substances and five referrals for sale of controlled substances. The 2005-2006 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) reports that 56 percent of teens agree that prescription drugs are easier to get than illegal drugs.

To reach their goals, the Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team outlined a number of events and actions they will take to raise awareness and make changes in our community. This includes short-term and long-term plans for increasing community collaboration and reducing youth substance abuse or use. A few of the many plans include:

• Hosting annual town hall meeting to develop awareness

• Working with youth on refusal skills and raising their awareness of the effects of these substances on the health and brain

• Working with parents on awareness and proving them with tools to talk to their children about the risks and consequences

• Providing training materials to local employers to assist with underage alcohol sale prevention

• Medication collections

• Communication through public service announcements, billboards, a website and other forms of media

• Support and further implementation of the local Text-A-Tip program

• Partnering with pharmacies to educate on safe disposal of medications

• Regularly recognizing and rewarding those who help to achieve these goals

The Drug Free Communities Support Program was created from the Drug Free Communities Act of 1997, and is the nation’s leading effort to mobilize communities to prevent youth drug use. The DFC program requires grantees to include active participation of the community, including health care, law enforcement and schools. In 2010, ONDCP awarded 169 new DFC grants, 16 new DFC Mentoring grants, 549 DFC continuation grants and 7 DFC Mentor continuation grants. Three new 2010 DFC grants were awarded in East Tennessee including Anderson, Bradley and Blount counties.

For more information about the Drug Free Communities Support Program, visit www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/dfc. If you’re interested in getting involved in the Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team or another Blount County Community Health Initiative action team, contact Clabough at 865-977-5718.

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