published: Friday, November 16, 2012
Tri-County, Drug Free Highlands join forces
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Young people face a world filled with temptations. This is why Tri-County Human Services and Drug Free Highlands have combined and re-organized in their effort to help teens fight peer pressure regarding alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Among other activities, these organizations do community assessments and develop strategies for change.
The goal is to look at and assess the data, then individualize plans.
In addition, Tri-County and Drug Free Highlands are meshing with other agencies, like Healthy Start and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Alliance.
Jacqueline Rawlings, with Tri-County, is overseeing the use of three grants awarded to the county for drug prevention programs. Drug Free Highlands provides those programs and now has two co-coordinators to make sure everything goes smoothly -- Veronica Resendiz Awai and Aisha Alayande.
Their focus is on educating and advocacy.
The most important point that citizens should remember, Rawlings said, is most youth do not use alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. "Please emphasize the positive," she said.
According to Drug Free Highlands, 68 percent of Highlands County teens choose not to drink alcohol; 87 percent choose to not smoke tobacco; and 89 percent choose not to smoke marijuana. Between 2010 and 2011 Vicodan use by 10th-graders dropped from 7.7 percent to 5.9 percent, meaning that 94.1 percent of our young people do not use Vicodan at all.
In fact, in only three "take back" medication days, law enforcement collected more than a ton of pills here in Highlands County. Nationally, 1.5 million pounds of pills have been collected in similar programs.
Drug Free Highlands has been in existence since 2003.
The school board and the sheriff's office have acted as fiscal agents in the past.
In 2010, the Rural Health Network won a federal Drug Free Communities grant of $125,000 annually for a five-year period, and now acts as the fiscal agent.
Florida once allotted money for drug use prevention, but then the state cut all funding.
Since then, local agencies have had to scramble for federal grant dollars.
With the grants just won, Drug Free Highlands plans several educational campaigns and has plans early in 2013 to launch a Positive Action Club in every middle school.
The clubs, open to students eligible for extra-curricular activities, will meet weekly -- peers listening to peers. They will do their own assessments of their community, report what they see and propose solutions, Resendiz Awai explained.
"It's about growing up a new generation of leaders."
But the coalition's most important goal, Alayande said, is to emphasize the positive, letting young people know they are far from alone when fighting peer pressure. In fact, the majority of adolescents in Highlands County are successfully doing the same.
To educate and provide support, public service campaigns are already running on television. There is a Facebook page, Twitter account and a youth texting program with 24/7 access.
The coalition is working with law enforcement to find funding for more convenience store alcohol and tobacco checks, as well as providing training for convenience store clerks.
It takes the entire community to help young people make healthy decisions, Rawlings said.
Teens need safe alternatives to occupy their free time and more information about the dangers of drugs.
One way to help is to attend the coalition's open monthly meetings at Florida Hospital Heartland Division. It meets at 9:30 a.m. on the second Wednesday of every month in conference room 2, on the second floor.
For more information, call Drug Free Highlands at 382-2138.
Small Banner Ads