Coalitions in Action – Southern Illinois Substance Abuse Alliance Pushes Forward with Sector Engagement

“The Southern Illinois Substance Abuse Alliance (SISAA) serves two rural counties, Randolph and Washington, in Southern Illinois with a total population of about 44,000 people,” said the coalition’s Youth Prevention CoordinatorDennis Trask. “It is an area of beautiful farmland, striking views of the Mississippi River and high teen use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. Our coalition formed in the spring of 2016 to address high rates of teen alcohol use with the award of an Illinois Strategic Prevention Framework Partnership for Success grant.”

According to 2018 data, Randolph County past 30-day alcohol use for 8th graders is 14% higher than the state average,” said Trask. “In 10th graders, the same rate is 8% higher than the state average and in 12th grade that climbs to 19% higher. Eighth graders report using any tobacco product in the last 30 days at 14% higher than the state average. In 10th grade the difference drops to 8% higher than the state average but among 12th graders, it is 21% higher. 

“Coalition staff have met privately with approximately 300 community leaders in two local counties, and practically everyone has shared a personal story illustrating permissive attitudes of adults regarding teen use of alcohol and tobacco,” said Trask. “Coalition leaders share similar observations often through their work as educators, law enforcement officers and health care providers. Adults frequently allow or provide alcohol to teens. While we do not currently have student data for Washington County, the observations of coalition leaders indicate similar issues there.”

“We have recruited, trained and engaged about 75 high school students from eight different high schools starting in the spring of 2017 with our first local teen summit,” said Trask. “By partnering with the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute, a fantastic Illinois youth prevention resource, we now have students working to prevent drug misuse in six high schools. High school students are doing prevention lessons with middle school students, encouraging their peers with positive messaging, hosting drug free alternative activities and making presentations to local community groups. Our local newspapers, which are very influential in our rural counties, cover student prevention work frequently.”

“The coalition also successfully advocated with eight different local governments to opt out of legal retail marijuana,” said Trask. “A local judge and county commissioner did programs at full coalition meetings in the spring of 2019 about the impact of retail marijuana on youth, resulting in 11 volunteers working on the issue. A position paper detailing the research-based consequences was created and used to guide communications. Coalition members made presentations to our local governments. Town Halls were held in Chester, Nashville and Red Bud. As a result of our efforts, Evansville, Nashville, Okawville, Sparta, Steeleville and Red Bud town councils as well as the Washington and Randolph county governments all prohibited retail marijuana stores in the fall of 2019.”

“SISAA has achieved success by recruiting and engaging participation from all 12 community sectors,” said Trask. “We created coalition member job descriptions, assessed community issues, drafted a logic model and implemented research-based strategies. Preliminary student data in 2018 indicated a 3% decline in Randolph County 10th grade alcohol use and increases in families with rules about alcohol and drug use, as well as more parents talking to teens about not using drugs. The results may be attributable to coalition prevention lessons and a parent communications campaign. We were hopeful of seeing new data from the 2020 spring survey, but COVID-19 impacts closing schools may delay that survey. Things really took off when we started having topical speakers at full coalition meetings and offered specific volunteer opportunities like providing In Plain Sight mock teen bedroom programs and information tables at community events. Local author Ellen Krone wrote an amazing book, Heartbroken, about the opioid crisis and addressing stigma. Ellen’s book helped attract 90 people to an evening community program at Okawville High School in the fall of 2019.” 

“The advice I would give to other coalitions is to get started, get help, plan through action, make it fun, be agile and persist,” said Trask. “Create job descriptions to let people know what you need. Review and revise those as needed. Be brave and do not be afraid to ask people for help. If you get a no, keep looking. Involve influential people and let them make things happen. We are so fortunate to have an amazing drug court judge, Dan Emge, as our current coalition chair. He follows other fabulous coalition chairs including Red Bud Chief of Police John Brittingham and Sparta High School Principal Scott Beckley. All of our coalition chairs have attended either the CADCA National Leadership Forum or Mid-Year Training institute. They share that experience with everyone else. Connecting our local work with national leaders takes things to another level. It is very encouraging to our coalition members to know that thousands of other people in the nation are also working to reduce drug misuse. Attending CADCA helped make that happen. Also, coalition staff use the CADCA Community to get fast useful ideas and feedback about any prevention issue one can imagine.”   

“We will be attending CADCA’s Mid-Year Training Institute this summer with at least one staff member and one coalition leader. We hope to bring back more connections and ideas from successful coalition leaders.”