By harnessing the power of the community, a coalition in Arizona has consistently decreased rates of youth alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and prescription drug use over the past four years.
The Fountain Hills Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (FH Coalition) saw that there were high rates of community youth drug and alcohol use in the Arizona Youth Survey, taken by 8th, 10th and 12th graders every other year. Back in 2010, 35 percent of youth surveyed had used alcohol in the past 30 days; nearly 15 percent had smoked a cigarette; about 17 percent had used marijuana and nearly 10 percent abused prescription drugs.
When the coalition received Drug-Free Community funding in 2010, that’s when things “took off like a rocket,” said Shelly Mowrey, director of the FH Coalition.
“We meet every six weeks with sector champions who are the driving force in the community. Leaders from law enforcement, schools, state and local agencies, faith-based and community groups all gather around the table to help us bring programs to the community,” Mowrey explained. “Some youths got into trouble and there was some real momentum to do something about the issue.”
The first item to tackle was underage drinking. Since easy access equals increased use, together the coalition and the community came up with two successful programs to curb the issue: Text a Tip and the Safe Home Network.
Text a Tip is an anonymous number that anyone can text — without revealing their phone number either — if they know about an underage drinking party or other illegal activity. The text is routed to the local sheriff’s office who then acts on the tip. Over the past four years, over 200 tips have been texted, which has stopped not only parties but crimes in progress.
“Kids say that there really aren’t a lot of house parties in Fountain Hills anymore because of the program,” Mowrey said.
To get the word out about Text a Tip, the coalition partnered with the Fountain Hills Times, which gets delivered to virtually every home. At the top of the front page each week is an ad about the program. Not only that, but the coalition partnered with local businesses, hanging a Text a Tip sign in each window. Each week, a new business is featured in the newspaper ad, encouraging readers to support that business because they support Text a Tip. So far, 177 businesses have participated.
In addition, Text a Tip business cards are handed out at community events and the program is advertised on local school buses and on trash cans in the park. The program is also promoted in doctor’s offices. Schools regularly hold Text a Tip training events. Students are encouraged to put the phone number and app in their phones. Those who do get a coupon for a free donut.
Another initiative is the Safe Homes Network, which is more focused on parents.
“Let’s say you have a kid in middle school or high school going to a friends’ house. You can check the Safe Homes Network to see if their parents signed a pledge that there will be no alcohol or drugs in the home,” Mowrey explained. “Anyone can check to see if a parent signed up for the network.”
So far, over 300 families are in the Safe Home Network.
“When we are out in the community, we put everyone’s name in the Safe Home Network on a placard. People will go up to it to see their name,” Mowrey said. “When people see this, they think that they are part of a coalition — not just a member of a network, but part of a coalition that’s making a difference.”
And these initiatives have really made a difference.
Between 2010 and 2014, youth alcohol use and cigarette smoking rates fell about 10 percent; marijuana use rates dropped about 2 percent and prescription drug use rates decreased by over 10 percent. In addition, youth alcohol and substance abuse rates are overall lower in Fountain Hills compared to the rest of the state of Arizona and the country.
Back in 2010, 65 percent of youth said they accessed alcohol at a party and that number is now less than 50 percent today. Four years ago, about 25 percent of youth said they got alcohol from a parent or at home. Today, those rates dropped 5 and 10 percent respectively.
“There is a direct correlation of underage drinking numbers and drug use going down and use of Text a Tip,” Mowrey said. “Our small sheriff’s office doesn’t have to deal with the effects of a party, such as drunk driving. It’s about prevention in Fountain Hills.”
Looking forward, FH Coalition is working on reducing prescription drug abuse rates even further. There is a permanent drop box at the sheriff’s office and the coalition is working with doctors to get them signed up for the prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). The drop-off box is emptied every seven to eight days because it’s so full. Also, FH Coalition is educating the community about the risks of marijuana use.
“We are not just collecting all of this data,” Mowrey said. “This is really impacting the whole town in a positive way.”