Dallas County System of Services (DCSOS) has emerged as a beacon of hope and positive change in the heart of Alabama, particularly in Dallas County. Founded in 2005, this organization has been committed to providing a range of prevention and intervention services for the well-being of children, youth, and families in the region. In 2016, DCSOS took a significant step forward by establishing the Drug Free Communities of Dallas County (DFCDC) coalition after insightful data from its first Youth Experience Survey. This year, DFCDC earned national recognition through the Blue Ribbon Coalition initiative as the 2023 Coalition in Focus for their short-term outcomes.
The mission of the DFCDC coalition is clear: to reduce and prevent substance misuse, with a primary focus on the youth population in Dallas County. Through awareness, education, and action, DFCDC aims to foster a healthier and safer community.
Prior to beginning their prevention efforts, DFCDC adopted a strategic approach to address substance misuse within the assessment phase of the Strategic Prevention Framework. Data from the Youth Experience Survey and the Community Norms Survey, conducted in collaboration with youth and senior citizens, guided the coalition in understanding root causes and local conditions within their community. Upon evaluating this crucial data, DFCDC developed a comprehensive 12-month action plan, with a focus on addressing youth misuse of prescription medications.
Two root causes were identified during the planning phase, including a low perception of risk towards prescription medication misuse and a high perceived availability among youth. DFCDC found that several local conditions contributed to these causes: youth were using medications as a “safer” way to get high, parents were providing youth with medications, doctors in Dallas County were overprescribing prescription opioids, and youth were accessing unsecured medications from their home or their friends’ home.
Based on these findings, DFCDC developed a multifaceted approach to reduce youth access to medications in the home. By expanding its coalition partners to include healthcare sector representatives and senior citizen organizations, DFCDC increased its capacity to reduce youth access. Additionally, through compliance check efforts in partnership with Alabama Law Enforcement, DFCDC saw a decrease in the prescribing rate of opioids within the community.
Through a “Lock It Up” campaign, DFCDC educated its community on proper medication monitoring and disposal and was able to reach a total of 10,000 adults and 6,000 youth. Medication lock boxes and at-home medication disposal packages were also distributed at community events to increase barriers to accessing prescription medications. DFCDC also took creative approaches to increase awareness, such as holding drug-free pep rallies, utilizing billboard and newspaper ads, and creating multiple viral music videos that featured leaders within the community rapping positive prevention-focused messages.
DFCDC Director, Jerria Martin, shared, “My biggest piece of advice to other coalitions is to talk to the youth and meet them where they’re at. Once you hear their insights, have fun and be as creative as possible with your strategies, while also ensuring they’re culturally competent and relevant. Selma has a strong rap culture, which is why using rap music videos as a tool to educate and raise awareness was able to work for our community.”
The impact of these efforts is evident. Baseline statistics from 2018 indicated that 18.6% of students perceived that prescription medications are available for misuse. Fast forward to 2022, and there has been a commendable decrease to 9%, demonstrating the coalition’s success in tackling this critical issue. Further, there was a 31.5% decrease in youth and adults reporting that the source of medications being misused was acquired through friends or family.
Looking ahead, DFCDC outlined a strategic plan for future success that encompasses several key initiatives. Firstly, the coalition aims to bolster its sector committees through a continuous recruitment drive, ensuring diverse and dynamic representation within the organization. Additionally, the coalition plans to continue to craft media campaigns that are not only compelling but also culturally competent, resonating effectively with the diverse population it serves. To further enrich its efforts, DFCDC plans to network with national coalitions through participation in CADCA’s Mid-Year Training Institute and National Leadership Forum, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange. Moreover, DFCDC emphasizes the nurturing of relationships with various community entities, recognizing the collaborative strength that comes from diverse partnerships. Finally, the coalition plans to be proactive in its pursuit of additional grant funding, aiming to sustain and expand its impactful programs for the betterment of the community it serves.
Dallas County System of Services, through its Drug Free Communities of Dallas County coalition, has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to addressing youth substance misuse. The community’s transformation, marked by reduced prescription medication misuse, is a testament to the efficacy of DFCDC’s strategic prevention efforts. As the winner of this year’s Blue Ribbon Coalition of Excellence Award, DCSOS stands as a model for other communities seeking positive change in the face of substance use challenges.