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From Unhealthy to Healthy Environments: A Durham, North Carolina Progress Report

Durham Together for Resilient Youth (T.R.Y.) has conducted underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meetings annually since 2006, when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) first announced the nationwide initiative. An early benefit of these events was that they established an atmosphere for a true community to emerge, despite existing political barriers. As Wanda Boone, T.R.Y.’s executive director, explains, “Durham County is divided into five Districts, also referred to as PACs (Partners Against Crime). District 1 ranks above the others in terms of health disparities, although the economic spectrum spans extreme poverty to extreme wealth. Duke University is in District 2. District 3 includes rural Durham County. North Carolina Central University, an Historically Black College and University, is in District 4. District 5 is the newly developed downtown area with upscale residences and restaurants. Although there are no physical barriers between districts and there should be no barriers between citizens, historically, it has been very difficult to bring members of all segments of Durham together to address our shared problems. Our Town Hall Meetings have done a lot to break down those walls and bring everyone to the table.”

The underage drinking Town Halls Meetings have also sparked community support for evidence-based approaches to preventing and reducing alcohol use and associated problems among area teens and have led to important policy initiatives. For example, T.R.Y. Town Halls Meetings were the catalyst for Durham’s Alcohol Outlet Good Neighbor Store Campaign, a city policy on the approval/denial of permits. Town Hall Meeting discussions also spurred a successful campaign to persuade the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC) to not allow a new fortified alcohol beverage to be sold in convenience stores. These Town Hall Meetings also influenced the introduction of House Bill 782, currently pending legislation meant to allow the sale of fortified, high-alcohol-content beverages only in state-licensed ABC stores.  

From their inception, T.R.Y. Town Hall Meetings have delivered the latest, best information about both the consequences and the prevention of underage drinking. The first event in 2006 focused on alcohol’s effect on the developing brain. Early in the next year, Ms. Boone met Acting Surgeon General Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D., M.P.H., at a Raleigh, North Carolina, event to launch The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. Dr. Moritsugu urged Ms. Boone to help Durham residents “connect the dots” between problems that their adolescents were experiencing and underage drinking. The next T.R.Y. Town Hall Meeting presented the Surgeon General’s Call to Action and its recommendations. Subsequent Durham Town Hall Meetings introduced media literacy and evidence-based strategies for combating teen substance abuse to counter the alarming dropout rates in the area’s high schools. Town Hall Meetings also took up the issue of product placement and advertising of alcoholic beverages, and they helped citizens understand what factors they could control in creating the healthy community they wanted to replace the unhealthy environment many families were experiencing. Discussing underage drinking in this context drew strong support for environmental policy implementation and enforcement efforts.

Understanding the Durham community, its challenge, and its strengths is the basis for T.R.Y.’s prevention activities and its yearly underage drinking Town Hall Meetings. T.R.Y. also channels the city’s vibrant youth culture in prevention efforts. As part of the 2012 Town Hall Meeting planning, T.R.Y.’s high-energy Bands Against Destructive Decisions (B.A.D.D.) youth coalition was given hands-on planning, promotion, and content responsibilities. One outcome of the 2012 event was production of a B.A.D.D. television public service message (PSA) that begins, “Kids that use alcohol and illegal drugs are much more likely to get lower grades and participate in risky behaviors: Drugs shatter lives!” B.A.D.D. members answer back, “But not mine,” challenging peer misperceptions about the actual prevalence of underage drinking and substance abuse. Pro bono production support was provided by Durham Community Media public access television station, resulting in a video of professional quality. Ms. Boone and other coalition members persuaded local theater owners to run the PSA before showing feature films for one full year. Later in 2013, T.R.Y.’s young supporters plan to roll out B.A.D.D. TV on the local public access station.

When Ms. Boone first formed Durham’s T.R.Y.’s coalition in 2003, its future was uncertain and its ability to change the community’s adolescent alcohol environment was untested. After a decade of progress, Ms. Boone is confident in T.R.Y.’s future and the future of many of Durham’s young people. “Town Hall Meetings have done a lot to help get us this far. We are grateful for the excellent materials and support SAMHSA provides for these activities.”


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