Coalitions in Action: Florida Coalitions’ Substance Use Prevention Outcomes Shine

Each year, the Mid-Year Training Institute moves to a host city – this year was no exception. Last week, CADCA and a record-breaking 2,100 prevention professionals gathered in Orlando, Florida for the 17th annual Mid-Year Training Institute. The week was packed with training sessions, networking opportunities and dynamic speakers.

Over the past few weeks, Coalitions in Action articles have featured Florida-based coalitions, highlighting the great work and outcomes from our local prevention leaders.

In Orlando, the Zebra Coalition was created to respond to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth, specifically around substance abuse and homelessness. “The Zebra Coalition is a very unique program comprised of service groups, government agencies, social service providers, churches, corporations, middle and high schools, colleges and universities. Through the Zebra Coalition, each of these organizations is able to aid in providing essential services for LGBTQ+ youth at risk or in need,” said Heather Wilkie, Director. “The primary goal of the Zebra Coalition is to create and sustain culturally competent programs that directly support the LGBTQ+ youth community throughout central Florida. An ongoing objective is to provide youth education and faculty education to local schools pertaining to LGBTQ+ issues and bullying prevention and intervention.”

In addition to housing and food services, residents are supported by a team of professionals including counselors and housing stability case managers. Counselors provide individual and group services designed to address mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders. The Youth Drop-In Center is located in central downtown Orlando and serves approximately 400 youth each year.

In Indian River County, the Substance Abuse Free Indian River (SAFIR) coalition implemented “Know the Law” – a partnership between the school system and law enforcement. At the beginning of each school year, school resource officers provide the Know the Law classes to incoming high school freshmen. The project explains the common offenses committed by youth on a regular basis. The program is designed to make local youth and young adults aware of the laws and the consequences of breaking the law.

“When they make decisions about their behavior, they should always consider the law and think about the consequences before they act,” said Robin Dapp, Executive Director. “‘Ignorance of the law’ is never an acceptable excuse for breaking the law.  It is important for you to know that, as a member of our society, you have rights, responsibilities and privileges that are established by law.  Remember that your actions now will have a great impact on your future.  You alone are responsible for your behavior, not your family or friends.”

The Orange County Drug Free Coalition is unique in that it is funded by the Orange County government. The coalition has focused on underage drinking, implementing campaigns and initiatives such as: youth ambassador drug prevention program, alcohol literacy challenge, alcohol environment scans, alcohol literacy training, law enforcement partnerships, parent resource guide, TIPs training, and working with Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

“Substance abuse is a community-wide problem and we need community-wide strategies to address it, not any one particular sector of the community. It’s a great way to invite people to the table,” said Carol Burkett, Director. “We work with the 12 sectors, including the k – 12 population and have an ongoing relationship with local colleges and universities.”

In Broward County, Florida, the United Way of Broward Commission on Substance Abuse is celebrating its 30-year anniversary! Since the start, the coalition along with Broward County community leaders have come together to address the public health and safety crisis of drugs and behavioral health in southern Florida. Broward County, Florida has a population of two million people and growing. Additionally, the coalition has a strong collaboration with the school system, implementing prevention programming throughout the grades. The county’s demographics are unique, approximately 30 percent Hispanic, 30 percent African American, and a large population over the age of 65. Gonzalo Cadima, Director, noted that “diversity contributes to the patterns that we see. Being next to Miami and Palm Beach, the geographical location, influences of tourism provide a gateway for a lot of things, which puts the coalition in a unique position.”

The community response team addresses the opioid epidemic. The team was created because of the Flakka drug issue a few years back. As a result, consequences of Flakka, including deaths and addiction cases declined sharply in 2015. As the crisis of Flakka dissipated, the opioid epidemic started to hit the area. The same group took this on, following the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF). The community response team has changed the role of the coalition, including how the coalition places itself within the system of care and the spectrum of prevention.

Thank you, Florida coalitions, for hosting us in your beautiful city. The 18th annual Mid-Year Training Institute will be held in Dallas, Texas, July 2019.