By Mark Powell
When Prevention Works
There’s encouraging news from the front lines in the fight against drug misuse in and around Bowling Green, Ohio. Drug use among students is declining in many categories. And a special organization is playing an active role in making it happen by following the mantra, “if you build it, they will come.”
In this case, the field of dreams is the Wood County Educational Service Center, established in 2003 to provide services to nine public schools and one career center in the local community. Over the years, they received money to start drug and alcohol education. They’ve now reached the point where nearly 20 evidence-based programs are taught in classrooms throughout the county.
Starting in 2003, the Center launched an important youth survey taken in 5th-12th grades. As a result, there’s now a robust database containing 16 years’ worth of information. The data finds drug and alcohol usage is trending downward in Wood County. In many cases, it’s dropping faster than the national average. The survey results are especially insightful because Ohio doesn’t have a uniform student survey, making it difficult to make county by county comparisons.
“These surveys give us an important idea of where we are,” says Center Director Kyle Clark. “Research and education go hand in hand. We can see spikes and changes in real time. For instance, right now we’re noticing a trend in LSD use, so we’re concentrating our efforts to address it.” Two surveys are conducted with separate, age-appropriate questions for 5th and 6th graders and 7th through 12th graders.
A Drug-Free Communities grant allowed the Center to hire a coordinator and expand its prevention coalition to work on a variety of projects. They provide SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) training and conduct PID (problem identification and referral to treatment) services, which work with youth on brief lessons and refer them to expert counseling if more support is needed.
In 2015, the coalition debuted a podcast that discusses topics such as marijuana and alcohol use, mental health, suicide, and more. Guest speakers range from coalition members to suicide survivors, and grief experts to students. There are thousands of downloads. A biweekly newsletter is produced; relationships are in place with Bowling Green University (including two on-campus committees, and an alcohol and drug task force); and there is a regional opiate and addiction task force consisting of members from seven northwest Ohio counties.
”Through the use of multi-pronged, environmental strategies, we have been able to make a difference in making sustainable community-level change in Wood County,” said Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Program Manager Milan Karna. “The collaboration that has been built from those who work directly with youth to those who work to support youth has helped us navigate through a period of very difficult challenges into one where students have many protective factors to increase their individual resilience.”
The Center takes a whole student approach, where they consider the totality of each student’s life through measurements such as ACEs (adverse childhood experiences). “We want to address the student as a whole,” Prevention Manager Angie Patchen says. “By state law, we must address reading, writing, and arithmetic. But we’ve been failing to address environmental issues of families and students. If you’re a 15-year-old girl sitting in algebra class who fears going home, you’re not going to focus on algebra. We must recognize that there are kids who are going through something who may self-medicate, and we should make sure their needs are addressed.”
That approach is paying off. Because of the many programs available through the Center, student surveys indicate a delay in the onset of all drug and alcohol use. “We’ve seen great gains in Wood County,” Clark says. And based on its track record, it’s likely more gains are still to come, turning dreams about helping thousands of kids into reality.
Wood County Educational Service Center 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.