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2023 Health Class Substance Abuse Prevention Program

Hosted by: Pennsylvanians Concerned about Alcohol Problems

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Please briefly describe your Communities Talk activity.

Our coalition visited several Pennsylvania school district middle and high school health classes and taught students about the effects of alcohol on areas such as personal health, social interactions, family/society, and driving safety. We featured evidence-based educational materials from Human Relations Media, Natural High, and Song for Charlie, and local anecdotal stories about their fellow classmates. We supplemented these with Kahoot or Factile Jeopardy! quizzes, polls, and games. The lessons inspired class discussions and information sharing. This also gave us an understanding of the effectiveness of the lessons we taught. The classes were well received by teachers and students. 

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How does alcohol and other drug misuse affect your community?

We realized how marijuana is becoming a drug that is abused as much as alcohol. Often one is partnered with the other as a dual high. The rise of vaping is now the more immediate issue because the drug of choice may be tainted with fentanyl, making it extremely powerful and poisonous to young adults. The net effect on schools is that the teachers and administrators are facing challenges with implementing prevention policies that are not intrusive. The use of these drugs in schools is rising. The shift in focus to deal with problems associated with these other drugs has taken the spotlight off of alcohol and the influence it has on our society. Future drug prevention efforts need to include a well-rounded approach to the two main drugs (alcohol and marijuana) and the threat of other drug tainting (such as we see with fentanyl). All this information is supported by the latest National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) statistics. Pennsylvania Youth Surveys (PAYS) are also showing similar statistics. It is also important to note that NIDA is now including related mental health effects in the available data. We have a great need for better understanding of how this is affecting students’ life choices. 

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Which prevention strategy(ies), as defined by SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, best fit your Communities Talk activity?

  • Community-Based Process Strategy - focuses on enhancing the capacity of the community to address AOD issues through organizing, planning, collaboration, coalition building, and networking.
  • Education Strategy – focuses on “two-way” communication between the facilitator and participants and aims to improve life/social skills such as decision making, refusal skills, and critical analysis.
  • Alternative Strategy – focuses on redirecting individuals from potentially problematic situations and AOD use by providing constructive and healthy events/activities.
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What goal(s) did you hope to accomplish with your Communities Talk activity?

  • Create alcohol and/or other drug misuse prevention action groups (e.g., committees, task forces, and advisory boards).
  • Start a youth-led coalition on alcohol and/or other drug misuse prevention.
  • Develop strategic plans to reduce and prevent alcohol and/or other drug misuse.
  • Build coalitions with other agencies or programs to reduce and prevent alcohol and/or other drug misuse.
  • Create awareness and policy change with local schools to not ignore a problem that is right there with them and they may not see it.
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Did you accomplish your goal(s)?


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What challenge(s) did you face in planning your activity this year?

  • Needed additional resources to conduct activity
  • Lack of interest from the community
  • Particularly severe or resistant substance use issues in our community
  • Unforeseen difficulties when planning our activity
  • We have not seen enough effective community-oriented parental activities to help us reach our goals. For example, churches and PTA or PTO groups did not respond to our requests to do some educational awareness clinics or visits to their meetings.
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How did you overcome these challenges?

We had to put those issues on the "backburners" in hopes of finding the time to pursue them in future school years. Sadly, we have not returned to this much needed approach and we are at fault there. We had to put efforts into the most effective paths we could. Ideally, a well rounded approach ( schools, churches, civic groups, local government support ) that is not cumbersome would be our best effectiveness. Going forward, we have a funding initiative to create more "teams" that will work in local communities and try relentlessly to make all of these points a goal.

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What are your next steps?

  • Create new action groups to tackle specific issues raised during our Communities Talk activity
  • Expand our coalition with new partnerships in the community
  • Create a public education campaign to raise awareness and/or change behaviors around underage drinking (i.e., create PSAs and other promotional materials)
  • Other: We are not interested in creating more educational materials that never seem to get used. What we are hoping to do is put actionable relationship goals in place that will last for years and self-perpetuate; for example, churches that are relationally invested in their local schools.
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If you’ve conducted Communities Talk activities in prior years, how has your repeated participation contributed to progress in achieving your prevention goals?

We have gotten better at it! One idea of education is to be relevant, and we have certainly had to do that. When we started teaching these programs 7 years ago, I never thought I’d be challenged in so many ways. I haven’t seen the end of it yet, so no doubt we will see new and exciting challenges as we work toward our goals of education. The newest challenges are “Social Isolation” and “Constantly Connected.” These two programs are in development. The end result of those two trends can lead to abuse of drugs that are readily found in the household (alcohol). It seems that we are constantly finding new, relevant subjects that the schools are looking to solve.

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Organizations that conduct Communities Talk activities often involve other organizations in the planning and execution of events. Please indicate which type(s) of organizations you involved in your activity planning.

  • Faith-based based organizations
  • Law enforcement
  • Youth-led organizations
  • Secondary schools
  • Elementary schools
  • Charitable organizations
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Which of the following best describes the primary audience(s) for your Communities Talk activity?

  • Youth
  • Teachers or other education staff
  • Doctors, nurses, or other health care professionals
  • Youth leaders (e.g., coaches, parks and recreation personnel, and scouting leaders)
  • Clergy
  • Black or African American community members
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How did you reach and engage your primary audience(s) to encourage them to participate in your activity?

We directly engage them in the teaching process.

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Which Communities Talk resources (or other SAMHSA resources) were most helpful for your activity?

  • StopAlcoholAbuse.gov website
  • StopAlcoholAbuse.gov What’s New email newsletter
  • Communities Talk website

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