LEXINGTON, Ky. (8/8/13) –Substance abuse and its affect on the city has not gone unnoticed in the Bluegrass and Lexingtonians are taking a stand. Local organizations and individuals have come together to fight drug use in Lexington through DrugFreeLex, a partnership between the Mayor's Alliance on Substance Abuse and the Fayette County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, or ASAP.
DrugFreeLex is made up of individuals and local organizations that share resources and knowledge to reduce substance abuse in Fayette County.
“Initially the two groups were meeting separately, but we had such similar goals,” said Lynsey Sugarman, ASAP’s board administrator. “ASAP’s goal is largely to do planning and coordination. The Mayor's Alliance did a lot more with committees and getting grants and did a lot more with implementation. So, the two work very well together.”
But, the coalition isn’t limited to the two organizations. A number of individuals and groups help make up DrugFreeLex, each contributing in their own way to preventing substance abuse.
“I think the real interesting part of this coalition is that there are a lot of local organizations,” she said. “We have the schools involved, we have the health department involved, we have the University of Kentucky. But we also have a lot of individuals. We have retirees who work with us diligently. We have parents who have become champions in their school and we have youth.”
The youth component to DrugFreeLex is one of the most vital organs in the initiative's function, according to Sugarman. She said the youth coalition is something they have worked very hard on over the past five years.
“We feel like when you're talking about prevention, you really need to work with youth,” she said. “One of the key things we do is try to empower those youth so that they can be leaders and they can have a key role in building their own futures to be drug free.”
Another focal point of the coalition is to serve as first responders to community crisis. The coalition has been involved in targeting heroin in particular, after recent outbreaks of heroin use in Lexington.
“We have been part of the heroin task force that the Mayor put together this year,” said Sugarman. “We're just doing everything we can. We're just kind of bringing the prevention voice into it. They have law enforcement and have the treatment. A lot of what we do is the education and prevention.”
The coalition is also involved in mobilizing community resources to prevent future crisis. They administer the Kentucky Incentive for Prevention survey, or KIP, every other year to 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders across the state, with the exception of Louisville, which has its own survey.
“A big part of what we do is assessment,” said Sugarman. “The KIP data is really essential to this. It's an anonymous survey and we're asking behavior and attitudes. Attitudes are a predictor of behavior, like how risky a 6th grader thinks a certain substance is correlates with the likelihood that they would use that substance.”
The data is assessed for state-wide trends and for Fayette County trends. The data helps in the planning process to determine where more effort should be focused. It's also used to gauge if drug usage is going up or down and fortunately, Sugarman said, it's going down.
“When we look at the KIP data, alcohol is the drug of choice for teens both nationally and in Fayette County,” she said.
A question on the 12th grade survey asks if the student has had at least one alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days.
“In 2010, 39 percent said yes, and in 2012, 37 percent,” said Sugarman. “So that's a two percent reduction in two years, which is pretty good. When they say 'everyone is doing it', everyone is not doing it. Sixty-three percent of the students are not doing it. That's a real important thing we've talked about, which is positive messaging.”
Sugarman attributes the decrease in underage drinking to the youth coalition's primary focus on preventing the consumption of alcohol amongst teenagers.
DrugFreeLex, like similar programs across the country, is challenged with securing funding. However, they're working hard to receive more grants and establish a fundraising campaign in the future.
But for Sugarman and many others, this work is far from a typical 9-to-5 day job. It's the result of a passion to come together and rid communities of drugs and substance abuse.
“I feel like we're making a difference. I really do. I've seen a lot of progress. I've seen people whose lives have been touched,” she said. “The people I work with are all amazing. They're dedicated and selfless. When I hear some people talk about their work, and it's not satisfying and I hear all those complaints people make, that's not the case with us. It's very rewarding to see the difference we can make in other people's lives.”
For more information, you can visit the DrugFreeLex website at www.drugfreelex.com.
Photo provided by DrugFreeLex
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