The DART Prevention Coalition, based in Ocean County, New Jersey, is housed in the Institute for Prevention and Recovery (IFPR), which is part of RWJBarnabas Health, New Jersey’s largest healthcare system. This unique relationship allows the coalition to leverage resources, not only in Ocean County, but throughout the state to address current and emerging trends in substance use.
Ocean County is at the epicenter of the current opioid crisis that is being addressed through collaborative efforts between DART on the prevention side, partners in law enforcement and the peer recovery support team of IFPR. As a result, in 2017, the county has seen its first reduction in overdose deaths in five years.
“Working upstream, DART also addresses other risky youth behaviors that often lead to more serious substance use: underage drinking, vaping, and marijuana use,” said Michele Buldo, DART Prevention Coalition Coordinator. “With 13 trained Youth Prevention Coalitions deployed in secondary schools across the county, our students provide indispensable input and show great strength in their voices as they work to reduce use of these substances in their communities.”
One such effort is a mapping activity the students conducted for their individual schools. In partnership with the NJ Army National Guard Counterdrug Task Force along with training conducted by DART staff, students mapped their schools and surrounding areas, identified the risk and protective factors. The paper maps were digitized by resident Guardsmen, who created an interactive tool to be provided to each school principal, showing entrances and exits, perimeters, and risk and protective factors as identified by their students in single or multi-layer format. School administrative staff will have the ability to modify their digital map to reflect school policy change or in response to shifts in current or future trends.
While the mapping activity is a recent addition to DART’s toolbox, it follows a series of successful environmental strategies addressing underage drinking by expanding the focus from point of sale to potential points of consumption.
DART has long embraced environmental change in regard to preventing underage drinking by advocating for responsible beverage server training (TiPS) for both on and off premise retail alcohol establishments along with local municipal ordinances requiring 100 percent TiPS compliance among their licensees.
“In terms of outcomes, we have seen a reduction in alcohol related incidents in the towns that have adopted these ordinances,” said Buldo. “Participating establishments have communicated that all patrons are now ID checked, those who are drinking are being “cut off” timely and appropriately and there has been a reduction in fights and other incidents.”
Additionally, these establishments have reported that TiPS training has helped them serve customers in a safer, more responsible manner.
“Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate!” said Buldo. “From our partnership with the NJ Army National Guard Counterdrug Task Force and local law enforcement officials, to training IFPR’s peer recovery support team in primary prevention and environmental impact, we recognize that any current or future crisis can only be solved when all three areas work together: law enforcement to disrupt and dismantle the distribution network, access to treatment and recovery for those already impacted by the disease of addiction, and effective community-based environmental prevention strategies to stop new users from getting started.”