Grant helps prevent youth substance abuse

For five straight years, Washington County’s Chemical Health Action Collaborative (CHAC) has received a continuation of a $125,000 federal “drug-free communities” grant to prevent substance abuse among youth.

The collaborative provides community support to prevent and reduce alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use by youths through partnership, education, intervention, and community change.

“(The grant) has helped a great deal,” said Sheri Vrieze the Drug-free Communities Program Director for Canvas Health, “The collaborative is made up of 50-plus members of Washington County and the grant allowed us to do projects and move those projects forward.”

Those projects include training vendors to make sure clerks are doing compliance checks, helping implement social host ordinances in the cities and conducting positive message campaigns intended to keep teens from alcohol, tobacco and substance use.

“The positive messaging campaigns were created with help from student surveys in area schools that gather actual data,” Vrieze said. “We post signs saying that 70 percent of students have not used alcohol in the past month. We’re trying to tell them that if they want to be like everyone else they shouldn’t use alcohol, and people have been really supportive.”

To keep the grant reports are presented annually and matching funds need to be available. This doesn’t necessarily mean money but also time as well. The collaborative teams up with professionals, parents and companies within the community to educate youth about the risks of substance use.

“The Andersen Foundation and Hazelden have played a huge part in this program to supply a curriculum about substance abuse and the presence of substance abuse in our community to raise awareness about the issue,” Vrieze said.

The grant has allowed Vrieze to observe positive changes in the community when it comes to decreased substance use, and the results have gained recognition from a national level.

“We congratulate this coalition on its work to raise a generation of young people equipped to remain drug free and ready to prosper in school, in their communities, and in the workplace,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “While law enforcement efforts will always serve a vital role in keeping our communities safe, we know that stopping drug use before it ever begins is always the smartest and most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences.”

“In a nutshell we have things connected to the grant going on all the time,” Vrieze said. “It’s a multifaceted program and it’s just such a positive influence on the community and it’s really working in a great way.”

Going forward the collaborative aims to continue with more of the same.