By Mark Powell
The Evolution of Addiction Prevention
“Connected Communities. Effective Coalitions. Healthy Iowans.” Those six words capture the essence of what the Alliance of Coalitions for Change (AC4C) does in Iowa every day. Its mission is to unite substance misuse prevention coalitions’ work in order to affect positive change through learning, advocating, networking, and building capacity.
Its story stretches back to 2005 when the DrugFree Communities grant program was in its infancy. “There were many people in the state back then who received funding and were unsure how to navigate through it,” recalls AC4C Director Angie Asa-Lovstad. “So, we changed direction and started supporting one another. Instead of trying to do it alone, we did it together.”
AC4C was the result. Its purpose is, “Unifying Iowans to reduce substance misuse on a state and community level.” But as grant funding ended and the number of coalitions began decreasing, they looked for a way to sustain their efforts.
Iowa is one of the few states to receive a statewide Drug-Free Communities Support grant. It’s administered by the Iowa Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. AC4C looks at the grant’s twelve sectors from a statewide perspective, instead of local. For example, the Iowa Pharmacy Association, an AC4C member, represents the business sector. This approach also creates leverage to continue the work once a grant expires at the end of the year.
Action teams create strategies for addressing alcohol, prescription drugs, and marijuana issues. For example, the prescription drugs team worked to help strengthen the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and increased locations of prescription drop boxes (with at least one located in all of Iowa’s 99 counties). The alcohol misuse team works with state legislators and teaches youth and communities how to successfully advocate. They recently helped secure passage of an important Social Host bill. And the marijuana team empowers local communities to make changes there, such as the small town that recently passed an ordinance limiting local dispensaries in the area. That has inspired other communities to do the same.
In fact, nearly 93 percent of AC4C coalitions have implemented at least one local ordinance or environmental policy change in their community. The group currently has 30 active coalitions operating across 35 counties. It’s currently working to create 12 more.
And AC4C is making a difference in local communities. Asa-Lovstad points to Newton, a small town of 15,000 people. “It has high unemployment, and also the state’s highest homelessness per capita. The police chief wanted to bring together a coalition to address homelessness and other issues. They didn’t have any money, but they did create an action plan for transitional housing. It was done through the power of bringing voices together. Now those voices are creating a ripple effect to create change.”
A lot has changed since the group was started 14 years ago. “We’ve gotten so much smarter and scientific in the world of prevention,” Asa-Lovstad concludes. “We now know we can’t just do an education program and think it’s done. We can’t just do a media campaign. You need different strategies. There has to be a formula for change. We now have an inclusive conversation, that’s the evolution of prevention.”
Alliance of Coalitions for Change 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.