By Mark Powell
Out of the Darkness and Into the Majority
Thirty years ago, with the crack cocaine epidemic worsening, a group of parents came together to raise awareness about the dangers of drug and alcohol misuse. Leading the charge was Hope Taft. Long before she became Ohio’s First Lady, Cincinnati’s mayor tasked Taft with exploring what needed to be done to protect kids from drugs. “When Hope Taft jumps in, she jumps in at full force,” says Marcie Seidel, Prevention Action Alliance’s executive director.
Originally working from the basement of her home, Taft enlisted the help of a Toledo judge who worked with youth and the deputy director of prevention at Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services. Their efforts came together to become the Ohio Association of Parents for Drug Free Youth and it soon spread across the Buckeye State. They developed local, regional, and statewide initiatives, advocated for legislation to promote prevention, and unified parents across the state with one purpose and one voice. They changed the name to Prevention Action Alliance in 2017 to signify their focus of leading healthy communities in the prevention of substance misuse and the promotion of mental health wellness.
Seidel, who has been involved with the organization for 20 years explains, “We are the middlemen. We understand research, good practices and evidence-based strategies. We work with prevention coalitions, family engagement groups, youth-led groups, colleges, and community organizations throughout the state to promote prevention.”
One of their newest initiatives is the GAP (Grief to Advocacy to Prevention) Network. It is a network of individuals who have been personally impacted by addiction, and who want their voices to be heard. They do trainings, provide information to help people understand, first, how to deal with grief, assist them in discovering how powerful their voice is, and then move them into advocacy. They’re also trained in prevention, with some becoming certified prevention specialists.
Prevention Action Alliance has taken the lead in prevention advocacy in Columbus. It examines legislative bills that affect treatment, prevention, and the continuum of care. It also provides information to Ohioans about pending legislation so their voice can be heard. Each year, they hold the “We are the Majority Rally.” The goal of the rally is to celebrate the majority of youth who do not use drugs, recognize the positive choices that most youth are making, and dispel the false perception surrounding young people using drugs. It is also a time for youth to advocate at the Statehouse. Since 2011, more than 14,000 youth have participated.
Prevention Action Alliance believes that prevention is much more than telling kids to stay away from drugs. “It’s explaining the effect that drug use can have on a developing brain and the importance of waiting. Prevention involves giving youth all of the protective factors that we can and minimizing risk factors. It’s creating a community that understands prevention and helps to support healthy decisions,” Seidel says in conclusion. Everyone has a role in prevention. Prevention Action Alliance helps everyone understand exactly what that role is.
Prevention Action Alliance was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.