Two Town Hall Meetings in Alabama Mobilize the Community to Combat High Rates of Binge and Heavy Drinking
Coalition for a Drug Free Dale County
Dale County, Alabama
Dale County, Alabama, is largely rural and located in the southeastern part of the state, covering 563 square miles. Unfortunately, a 2010 study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin ranked Dale County as the number-one binge drinking county in the state, with 20 percent of adults reporting binge or heavy drinking from data collected between 2002 and 2008. To combat this alarmingly high statistic and its implications for a county with almost 12,000 of its roughly 50,000 residents under the age of 18, the Coalition for a Drug Free Dale County decided to use Town Hall Meetings to engage community parents and youth about underage drinking prevention and underage drinking laws.
To engage as many community members as possible, the Coalition for a Drug Free Dale County scheduled two 2014 Town Hall Meetings in the county: one on May 13 in Daleville and one on May 15 in Ozark. Each location shared the same theme and content for the evening, focusing on “Our Community, Our Kids, Our Future.” A local county news source, the Southeast Sun, ran an article to publicize the upcoming event, posing a series of questions to parents to help them initiate a conversation with their kids about underage drinking before the meetings. To continue discussing these topics at the Town Hall Meeting, the Coalition for a Drug Free Dale County assembled a panel of experts consisting of an Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board agent, a county sheriff’s office deputy, a juvenile probation officer, a registered nurse, a local insurance agent, and a statistician (who analyzed local underage drinking data). While panelists discussed teen drinking consequences, evidence-based prevention strategies, and parental involvement techniques that can help minors remain alcohol-free, meeting participants contributed comments and questions that provided insight on the general community’s knowledge, attitude, and readiness for underage drinking prevention.
MEASURES OF SUCCESS
Evaluation forms collected at both meetings indicated that participants significantly increased their understanding of the seriousness of underage drinking in their community and learned about the medical and legal consequences for youth. The Southeast Sun published a follow-up article, providing a summary of the meetings for those unable to attend and increasing community awareness of the Coalition for a Drug Free Dale County. Additionally, several panelists strengthened their relationship with the Coalition for a Drug Free Dale County to collaborate for future prevention efforts.
The Coalition for a Drug Free Dale County is looking forward to the next round of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)-sponsored Town Hall Meetings to continue discussion on the community’s underage drinking prevention plans. The group is also planning a public meeting during the off-stipend year that will use an adapted Town Hall Meeting structure to combat the county’s recent surge in prescription drug abuse among teens.