Coalitions in Action: Thinking Outside the Box in Rural Indiana

 

In the spring of 2013, Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse, Inc. (NASA) in Greenfield, Indiana, knew that it had an escalating problem on its hands. Alcohol, tobacco, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and marijuana use were all on the rise among its youth in Hancock County, the coalition’s service area. One major concern was the inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws and school policies countywide. So NASA decided to create an Underage Drinking Task Force, a partnership of law enforcement agencies, schools, probation, judges, the prosecutor’s office, and the coalition to help rectify the situation.

“Together we examined the problem from the perspective of each of the stakeholders, and then we developed common goals and practices,” explains Tim Retherford, Executive Director of NASA. “What this did was to unify the County’s underage drinking efforts so that it was treated consistently.”

With a population of 72,000, Hancock County consists of several small cities and towns; Greenfield, the County Seat has 21,000 residents. The county also has four public school corporations, including four public high schools with about 4,000 students. Although Hancock County is just 30 minutes from Indianapolis, it is primarily a rural, farmland community.

With reducing underage drinking as its primary goal, the Task Force created a broad range of initiatives.  Among them:

  • An MOU signed by all eight law enforcement departments, making policies dealing with underage drinking uniform countywide; Indiana State Police signed the MOU as well.
  • The Underage Drinking Task Force established a group of police officers (from the eight departments and the State Police) who work overtime to enforce underage drinking in Hancock County
  • Enforcement of underage drinking laws now uniformly imposed, including zero tolerance laws
  • Overtime payment for Underage Drinking Task Force police paid for by local funds and by Justice Assistance Grants (JAGs) from the state of Indiana
  • Regular “Party Patrols” by Underage Drinking Task Force police across the county
  • Agreement by Hancock County’s school corporations to impose consistent consequences and penalties for youth caught drinking
  • For youth caught drinking, County Probation Department requires them to attend an alcohol educational class and complete community service and a brief assessment is conducted by a treatment professional (if it is determined necessary) who is a probation officer and who can recommend further treatment by a local alcohol treatment office

Data shows that enormous progress has been made. For example, in a study prepared by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University, in June of 2013, 34.1 percent of Hancock County’s high school seniors, said that they had consumed alcohol during the previous 30 days, compared with 22.3 percent in 2014; 21.1 percent in 2015; and 19.7 percent in 2016. Furthermore, from 2013-14, there were 123 Underage Drinking Task Force arrests, and from 2015-16, there were just 52.

NASA is also working on many other fronts, including involving youth to develop innovative ways to communicate its substance use messages.

“Our Youth Council is one important key to our continued success, as they know best how to design messages to their peers,” Retherford says. “For example, they let us know they want to learn in a fun, interactive way.”

So NASA has brought entertaining, motivational speakers to the middle and high schools. Among them was Craig Tornquist, an Indiana stand-up comic. Dressed in his best “Elvis” garb for part of his presentation, he talked to students about the dangers and consequences of alcohol and drugs, and how substance use can ruin lives, calling attention to celebrities such as Robin Williams, Prince, and Whitney Houston.

The teens also coordinated a “being in the majority campaign.” As a part of that, they designed baseball card-size cards with statistics about the numbers of students who don’t do drugs or drink alcohol.

The coalition also uses different strategies to communicate its message to adults in Hancock County. For this population, it has developed a traditional media campaign using TV and print ads in the local newspaper. One TV ad featured a dozen teenagers saying individually, “I am one.” The camera then pulls out to reveal the entire group, and they all say, “We’re one of 65 percent of the youth in our community who don’t use drugs.”

Recently, the coalition also brought a representative from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area to Greenfield to meet with professionals in the county to discuss the effect legalization of marijuana has had on Colorado.

“We are doing everything we can,” added Retherford. “Beginning with working with so many partners in our community, to create a safer place to raise our families.”