Grantee Highlights for the STOP Program
Cincinnati loves its festivals, says Mary F. Haag, R.N., Vice President for Coalition Strategies at the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati. But in addition to being celebrations of the diverse heritages on the Ohio and Kentucky banks of the Ohio River, the events also end up being “celebrations” of alcohol.
“These are family events,” said Ms. Haag. “But what kind of message was it sending when the norm is that every event has to have alcohol at it?”
Such norms had resulted in some shocking statistics: According to the coalition’s survey of 7th to 12th graders, on average children in greater Cincinnati have their first drink when they are just
13 years old.
Thanks to a STOP program grant, the coalition is now working hard to change those norms. And because festivals play such a big part in the local culture—there’s one every weekend, said Ms. Haag—that’s where the coalition is focusing its initial efforts.
Who are the best messengers for underage drinking prevention messages? For a Connecticut coalition called ERASE (East of the River Action for Substance Abuse Elimination), the answer is young people themselves.
“Evidence shows that a peer-to-peer message is far more powerful than someone speaking at someone else,” said Executive Director Bonnie W. Smith, M.P.H. “When young people send the message not to drink, it’s very powerful.”
A grant from SAMHSA’s STOP program has allowed the coalition to strengthen its ongoing work with middle and high schoolers. The coalition’s strategy is to teach leaders from its youth coalition—Peers Are Wonderful Support (PAWS)—how to use data to identify specific problems, develop a media campaign, and examine policies at schools and elsewhere.
These students attend a leadership training in the fall where they engage in team-building activities, learn about existing media campaigns to adapt for their communities, and learn skills such as using social media to get their messages out.
With funding from ERASE, they then develop a plan for the school year. Activities might include a daily school announcement, a community forum, or a local media campaign.
In the spring, students come together again for a conference on substance abuse and related issues. Over the summer, ERASE sends them to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving annual “power camp” to recharge for the upcoming school year.
“We’re trying to build the capacity of these groups,” explained Ms. Smith. The success of the youth program is spilling over into ERASE’s work with adult volunteers, she added. “These young people have done so well they inspire the adults in a way I never expected.”
Neighborhoods surrounding the University of Wisconsin-Platteville didn’t need statistics to know there was a serious underage drinking problem among the students.
Students in off-campus houses would host parties attracting hundreds of students. And those parties were more than just loud, said Kathy A. Marty, M.S.Ed., Director of the SAFE (Safe Actions for Everyone) Grant County Coalition. Students under the influence would also trespass in neighbors’ yards, break lawn ornaments, and race off in their cars when the police arrived.
With support from SAMHSA’s STOP program, the coalition took action, launching Neighborhood Watch programs to keep an eye on communities near campus. The coalition also trained police officers in the sheriff’s office. This Underage Drinking Task Force now responds to complaints, breaks up parties, and issues citations. When its members aren’t on “party patrol,” they
are busy checking for fake IDs in bars or patrolling the area’s riverside beaches and community events.
Underage students caught drinking do have an alternative to a ticket and fine, however. First offenders can opt to participate in a voluntary program called Fresh Start, which uses an evidencebased curriculum to challenge the beliefs and attitudes that contribute to high-risk alcohol use. “We want to educate, too, not just penalize,” said Ms. Marty.
To encourage alternatives to drinking, the coalition also challenges students to host the best nonalcoholic party each spring. Cash awards are given to the winner.
The coalition even managed to get the state legislature involved: Legislators passed a law allowing universities to take disciplinary action even when underage drinking occurs off campus.
These efforts are really paying off, said Ms. Marty. At homecoming, usually a rowdy, hard-drinking time, the campus was unusually quiet. “Students know now that the Task Force can be called in, and they can get a ticket.”