Coalitions in Action—Owen County Drug Prevention Coalition Prioritizes Sector Representation During COVID-19

“The Owen County Drug Prevention Coalition-Hope’s Hands is comprised of diverse members that represent 12 different sectors, ranging from youth to healthcare professionals, who play a vital role in substance misuse prevention,” said the coalition’s Project Coordinator Sarah Tuttle. “Hope’s Hands, Inc. was formed in 2007 and the coalition was revamped in 2016. The coalition meets monthly to focus on collaborative, community efforts employing prevention-based programs and strategies to reduce youth substance use in our rural community. As a coalition, we host and support positive school and community events to provide not only education, but a safe environment for youth. Events including town hall meetings, community forums, open houses, and school programs are commonly supported.”

“Although the coalition is in a rural community with limited resources, which can pose a challenge, coalition members are creative in their efforts to exercise prevention measures,” said Tuttle. “The coalition prides itself on using members' strengths to effectively carry out the mission to reduce youth substance use. One characteristic that sets our coalition apart is the active representation of the faith-based community. Local church members and pastors not only show support but stay actively engaged by hosting events and lending transportation services. By building and maintaining important relationships with local churches, businesses, the school system and elected officials, our coalition’s and mission is continuously supported, providing sustainability for future endeavors.”

“The main issue our coalition is currently facing is not getting to engage in fellowship with each other,” said Tuttle. “Because Owen County is a tight knit community, we love getting together to discuss and implement tasks at hand and to have a genuine relationship with our members. It took a few months to shift gears and figure out how we would carry out our action plan during the pandemic, however, we learned to get creative and work with community partners to fulfill the mission and vision of the coalition.”

“Our coalition has worked to safely engage members through educational emails on CADCA’s Seven Strategies of Community Change and how these strategies relate to tobacco and alcohol (our focus substances) as well as the coronavirus,” said Tuttle. “We have also provided information through community-wide drive thru food distributions and back to school events, distributed medication lock boxes to families, shared information to families about The Dinner Table Project, implemented the Not in my House Campaign through social media, yard signs and milk stickers, held virtual meetings,  worked with law enforcement to establish an anonymous tip line service, worked with community businesses to  implement indoor nicotine-free policies and conducted an internal member review process to identify active members, gauge mission and vision conveyance and satisfaction of coalition work.”

“The activity we are most proud of this year is our Not in my House Campaign,” said Tuttle. “It was our first year implementing the campaign and we were excited to tailor it to our community by utilizing the guidance from the developers at North Dakota Prevention Resource and Media Center. Beginning in 2020, the Alcohol Task Force of the Owen County Drug Prevention Coalition kicked off the ‘Not in my House Campaign’ to help change perceptions and assumptions related to underage alcohol use. The campaign originated in North Dakota, and is currently implemented in Campbell, Grant, Gallatin, Pendleton and Kenton counties by our partners in prevention. We were able to share social media and news messaging with the primary goal of reducing youth social access to alcohol by raising awareness about social host liability and related misperceptions surrounding underage drinking.”

“The best way to approach the issue of underage drinking is for citizens to work in a coordinated effort with their local community leaders, youth, law enforcement and governmental agencies to change the environment that contributes to the problem,” said Tuttle. “People’s behavior is shaped by their environment, so if we change behavior, we are able to change the environment. The Not in my House campaign is a perfect transition into the education of social host ordinances. We will be hosting an educational virtual Social Host Lunch and Learn in February, where attendees will receive gift cards to local eateries after the meeting. We will kick off our campaign again in March and run it through August.”

“As a result of our recent efforts, we feel as if we are branding our coalition as a reputable resource for information, materials and prevention efforts,” said Tuttle. “Our coalition has worked hard to reduce access to substances and work toward sustaining community policies. According to our 2018 Kentucky Incentives for Prevention Survey, there was a significant decline in cigarette use amongst 10th and 12th graders.”

“Our biggest piece of advice for other coalitions is to be creative, be patient and don’t forget to put yourself in the community’s shoes,” said Tuttle. “It is so easy when working in prevention to be so focused on completing action plans that you forget your passion for the work.”