News and Tribune

Clark County

March 17, 2011

Group pushes to end substance abuse

Grassroots Prevention Coalition adopting new strategies

JEFFERSONVILLE — On a day where pubs and bars will surely be filled with masses looking to enjoy a celebratory green beer, another group was hosting a breakfast with the hopes that it can eliminate substance abuse in Clark County.

The Grassroots Prevention Coalition of Clark County, with the help of Community Action of Southern Indiana, hosted a community breakfast Thursday morning at Kye’s in Jeffersonville.

In a reorganization year for the coalition, it is looking to adopt strategies to minimize substance abuse and gain support for the prevention coalition, said Grassroots Coordinator Mary Watkins.

“To change the tide on this ... it’s the adults that are going to do it,” she said. “We need to educate our youth, and we will educate our youth, but we’re talking about cultural norms; we’re talking about how the parents allow the environment [of substance abuse].”

The grassroots prevention group is looking to change the norms in three years. It is in its seventh year of a 10-year grant period, and the organization’s goal is to have a community sustained prevention organization by the time the grant ends.

Strategies include working with Clark County schools to host prevention programs and organize SADD groups, working with family courts in the county to help minimize risk factors, build relationships with caregiving facilities and work toward changing social hosting laws.

To demonstrate the need in the community, the organizers welcomed students from Providence High School to act out an anti-drug skit and a Jeffersonville High School student and teacher that have already taken a proactive step.

Members of Jeffersonville’s Students Against Drunk Driving  — SADD —  shared their stories of loss with the audience.

“This part of my life kind of made me feel like I needed to do something to prevent more of our youth being hurt by drinking and driving or any kind of destructive decision,” said Alyssa Saricsany, president of Jeffersonville high school’s SADD group, after sharing the story of a family member  who was killed in a drunk driving accident.

Wes Scott, an English teacher at Jeffersonville High School, also shared his experience of losing a friend due to a drunk driver.

The group, in four years, has grown from one student and teacher to a group of 60 members, an example of what the Grassroots Prevention Coalition is hoping to inspire.

“Right here in our community we have some of the most powerful, wonderful people that can accomplish tremendous, tremendous goals by coming together and not caring who gets the glory or the honor, but just saying let’s reach out and pull somebody in and give them information that can improve the quality of their life,” said Glen Gibson, owner of Life Improvement Counseling in Jeffersonville and a member of the grassroots coalition.

To change the cultural norms in the community and improve prevention, the organization acknowledged it will be an uphill battle.

“We’re enabling our community, the adults are, so to make any kind of changes we need to change our environment and the way you do that ... is you’ve got to get the adults on board and we’ve got to change environmental [factors],” Watkins said.

The environmental factors that may increase the risk of substance abuse in teens were presented in an epidemiological, or Epi, profile. The profile is being used to provide a strategic plan for the coalition.

“We change our norms by knowing where we have to go,” said Indiana Prevention Resource Center Evaluator Katharine Saddler-Brown. “It [the study] shows where we are risking our students lives and health.”  

Mitigating factors include the community environment, divorce rates, educational factors and socio-economic data among other factors.

Saddler-Brown offered up statistics to show the need to change the trends locally, she said.

In a one-month period 2,250 high school students admitted to drinking alcohol, more than 1,400 used marijuana and more than 1,540 admitted to binge drinking.

“That’s not national, that’s not state, that’s within the borders of Clark County, in our Clark County school system[s],” Saddler-Brown said. “They chose to do something illegal. They chose this as a way of passing their time.”

Grassroots Coalition Co-chair Andi Hannah added 40 percent of high school seniors used alcohol last month and cigarette and marijuana use in Clark County are higher than the national averages.

And the high substance abuse figures were cited as having a secondary impact on the region.

“Our graduation rates are not what they should be, our attendance rates are not what they should be, across our county there are many things at play because of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other substances,” Saddler-Brown said.

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