Coalition’s Population and Unique Features
The DART Prevention Coalition serves all of Ocean County, NJ and its approximately 592,000 residents. The county is comprised of 33 municipalities that represent a mixture of shore communities and suburban towns, along with some rural and farmland areas. It is also a high tourist region with people traveling from all over to visit the Jersey Shore.
After Memorial Day, the county’s population doubles with an influx of vacationing families, college students, and high schoolers who rent houses along the shore for a weekend prom or graduation celebration. This often coincides with an increased incidence of partying and the substance use.
Ocean County also has the highest population of senior citizens in the state of New Jersey—a factor which presents unique issues related to substance use, especially in terms of prescription medications. In assessing how illegal substances enter the towns we serve, there are several major highways running through the county that are corridors to Trenton, Philadelphia and New York City, all major cities and points of sale for illegal substances.
In September of 2017, Ocean County received a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) designation, largely because of high overdose rates. This helps coordinate joint efforts among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, and provides funds for resources needed to combat drug trafficking in problem areas.
The DART Prevention Coalition 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.
In 2014, DART created youth prevention coalitions (YPC) across Ocean County to incorporate youth into the Strategic Prevention Framework process. As we know, so many prevention efforts are focused on our youth and we felt our efforts would be much more effective if our youth were delivering the message. 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.
Our youth prevention coalitions noticed a disturbing trend last year that many schools across the country are currently dealing with: vaping. Led by our YPC students, DART was able to sit down and discuss the harmful effects of vaping with administrators and faculty across Ocean County. In addition, the YPC students met with their own schools’ administration to advocate for policy change to help reduce vaping use in their schools.
This partnership with youth and their respective schools has given DART the opportunity to offer training to all staff in several districts along with YPC students implementing a program to their fellow classmates.
Interventions and Outcomes
While DART continues to focus on underage drinking, illegal marijuana use, and misuse of prescription medications, the coalition is also aware of current drug trends impacting youth. As the use of e-cigarette and vapes moved to the forefront, there was a lot of misinformation or lack of information available regarding these devices. This presented the opportunity to educate youth, schools, and the community at large. DART developed a fact card with information on the dangers of vaping along with additional resources.
The issues surrounding e-cigarettes and vapes continue to evolve. Therefore, the coalition is beginning to analyze our interventions, ultimately leading to improved outcomes and environmental level changes. Training provided for school professionals has led to a shift in perception on the dangers of e-cigarettes and vapes. This school year, many districts will now have formal written policy surrounding e-cigarettes and vapes.
What advice would you give to other coalitions that may be addressing some of the same issues?
Michele Buldo, DART Prevention Coalition Coordinator shares, “Involve your youth! Throughout all aspects of the SPF process, youth play such a crucial role. They are the ones that face many of these issues, therefore it is imperative to have them be a part of the planning and implementation of appropriate strategies. We find that peer led initiatives in schools typically have the greatest impact on fellow students. As a Coalition, it is important to listen to your youth and let them be a part of your prevention efforts!”