The task force last met in November, at which time they decided to reorganize as a coalition to increase effectiveness and eligibility for grants. They met again on Thursday, February 26. Unfortunately, the three-month hiatus since last meeting has delayed progress.
The committee accomplished little in the interim and much information that had already been discussed had to be reviewed again at this meeting. Also, the committee lost the dynamic leadership of Therese Doud. She had been chair of the prevention subcommittee, but has retired from the group.
Attendance at this meeting was down from previous gatherings and none of the youth showed up that had come in November. Mark Schuby said the youth were disappointed that the adults were still compiling statistics rather than aggressively initiating addiction prevention programs.
However, some progress has been made. Craig Hoeft announced that St. James United Church of Christ has pledged $1000 to use for programs for the youth.
Also, though it may be boring, compiling statistics is necessary for grant applications as well as to monitor the effectiveness of programs. The MiPHY (Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth) data from Saline Area Schools was made available to the group in November and has provided a basis for some goal setting.
Consultant April Demers lead the evening meeting. It was clear that more work would be needed to convert the group to a coalition recognized by the Community Anti-drug Coalitions of America.
A coalition needs to have representation from 12 sectors of the community: youth, parents, the business community, media, schools, youth-serving organizations, law enforcement agencies, religious or fraternal organizations, civic groups, healthcare professionals, state of local substance abuse agencies and organizations involved in reducing substance abuse.
The eleven people who showed up for Thursday’s meeting comprised no more than half of those categories. Community members with the appropriate knowledge or affiliation and a passion to prevent substance abuse should contact Saline Police Chief Hrinik or Smita Nagpal.
Voting members of the coalition representing the 12 sectors will be asked to sign something like a contract to assure consistent attendance. However, everyone present, weather a voting member or not, will be considered to be an equal at the table when issues are discussed. Matters requiring a vote usually relate only to allocation of money.
Saline High School counselor Mark Schuby reminded the group that data from the MiPHY survey is probably inaccurate because students distrust the claim that it is anonymous. He said that if they truly believed it was anonymous the apparent level of substance abuse would likely increase, when in fact it would simply be more accurate.
Demers said this kind of spike is often seen when communities begin to address abuse problems.
Much of the meeting was brainstorming on the how to increase community awareness about the abuse of three substances: alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs. One idea was to assign a tech-savvy person to exploit various social media. Another was to combine dissemination of information on substance abuse with other events that parents and students will want to attend.
Schuby talked about programs that the school is already doing or has tried in the past. He said that there are usually four community awareness programs per year and an equal number of presentations directed to K-8 students. High school activities organized through the SADD chapter include Grim Reaper Day and a Prom campaign.
The group would like to make substance abuse education a consistent part of both preseason athletic meetings and freshman orientation. This will assure that most incoming students and their parents will be exposed to the message at least once.
Pastor Ken Gilmore talked about the role that churches could play in getting the message to parents. If most area churches had a program, many more adults would get the message.
Alcohol free alternative activities were discussed as a way to divert students from abuse. The recent Winter Fest was a recent example of a community activity that was broadly popular yet did not include alcoholic beverages.
Addiction is more likely in persons who are genetically predisposed, but Schuby wanted to emphasize the importance of age of first use. The incidence of use becoming abuse is much more common in those who start at a young age.
Development of parts of the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, involved in decision-making, is incomplete during the teen years. Substance abuse by teens can alter or arrest full maturation of these region.
Prescription drug abuse can be reduced by use of the med bin, the “Big Red Barrel” at City Hall, to dispose of un-used and outdated drugs. Community members should be regularly reminded of the importance of keeping these drugs out of the hands of youth. Senior citizens, who are often prescribed multiple drugs should be included in this education.
The group chose a logo for the coalition. It features a yellow rising sun and blue lettering, a symbol of hope in Saline Hornet colors.
The next meeting will be March 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. Interested community members are encouraged to attend.