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Grant aims at preventing substance abuse by Park County youth

Federal grant provides $625,000 over 5 years

A federal grant recently awarded to a Park County coalition will provide $125,000 per year for five years to help prevent alcohol and prescription drug abuse by local youth.

The grant, totaling  $625,000, was awarded last month to the Park County Coalition Against Substance Abuse through the Drug Free Communities Support Program. It was one of only 60 grants awarded nationwide to community coalitions that facilitate citizen participation in local drug-prevention efforts.

The coalition is organized through the Prevention and Wellness Office at West Park Hospital in Cody.

“Efforts to keep our youth drug-free are critical to healthy and safe communities here in Park County,” said Helena De Fina, PCCASA member and prevention specialist at West Park, in a news release. “This new funding will allow PCCASA to mobilize and organize their community to prevent youth substance use.”

“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, said in the release. “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.”

De Fina said the grant will support work to prevent substance abuse in youth 18 and younger, she said. The coalition plans to use the grant money to work toward four primary goals:

• Formalize PCCASA’s organizational structure to support and strengthen the coalition’s efforts to prevent and reduce substance abuse.

• Reduce 30-day use of alcohol among middle school and high school students in Park County.

• Administer reliable and valid detection tools to better detect and document the use of prescription drugs.

“We have a lot of information about the use of alcohol piece, but we want to focus more on prescription drugs,” De Fina said.

• Limit availability of illicit prescription drugs by using strategies to reduce access to them, and by promoting those strategies among Park County residents.

Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt said, “Alcohol has been, and continues to be, a problem with underage drinkers. Historically, alcohol has been a rite of passage,” and that mindset continues for many youth, he said.

Statistics from the 2010 Park County Prevention Needs Assessment show that 24 percent of high school seniors in the county binge drink, defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in a row, De Fina said.

“I do want to point out that 75 percent of Park County youth are not drinking in this manner,” she added. “We need to also recognize those who do make healthier choices.”

Prescription drug abuse by youth is a relatively new problem, Eckerdt said.

“It’s not something that has been tracked in past years,” he said. But Eckerdt said he believes the situation in Powell is similar to the national trend, which shows an upswing in prescription drug abuse.

“Some of this is intentional; some is not,” he said. He cited the example of a parent who takes medication prescribed to one child for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and gives it to another child, thinking if it works for one, it should work for the other, too.

But that child’s brain chemistry likely is different, so the medication could have a completely different effect on him or her, Eckerdt said.

While the extent of intentional abuse of prescription drugs is not documented yet, it is happening as evidenced by property crimes involving the theft of prescription drugs, Eckerdt said.

In addition, the medical community has become aware of the problem as well through incidences of “doctor shopping.” In those cases, people see two or more doctors in different clinics or cities at the same time, simultaneously asking for multiple prescriptions for the same drugs.

Eckerdt said the Wyoming Board of Pharmacy has created a pharmaceutical database for prescriptions that will show who is obtaining more than one prescription of the same type. When that system goes live, pharmacists will be able to tell if a prescription is a duplicate of one already prescribed to that person by another doctor.

De Fina said PCCASA submitted the grant application last spring, just before the Wyoming Department of Health made changes to the way it provides funding to substance abuse prevention efforts.

“This was a really nice surprise,” she said. “We were really hoping, of course, but we knew it was very competitive.”

De Fina said she now is the only full-time employee in the West Park prevention office.

“That limits us time wise,” she said, “but it hasn’t stopped our interest or our desire to continue prevention work ... I’m always keeping my eyes open for grants.”

The coalition will administer the grant independently. However, De Fina said she also plans to work when feasible with Sharon Altermatt, the new Park County prevention coordinator hired by the Johnson County Community Resource Center. That center now coordinates prevention efforts statewide.

“There’s a lot of adults that care and want the best for youth,” De Fina said.

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