Underage drinking claims the lives of more than 4,700 young people across the United States every year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Small towns, suburbs, and cities alike struggle with this serious issue.
In Massachusetts, efforts to reduce underage drinking are showing steady gains in recent years, with fewer high school students reporting ever using alcohol. But state public health officials wanted to do more to support statewide prevention programs to curb underage drinking and other substance abuse. To do so, they chose EDC to lead the Massachusetts Technical Assistance Prevention Partnership (known as MassTAPP), which provides technical support to communities and coalitions funded by the state or federal government to address substance abuse prevention.
Massachusetts has identified underage drinking, opioid overdose, and the misuse of prescription drugs as three priority areas. MassTAPP staff offer technical assistance, capacity building, and resources to underage drinking programs funded by the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS), grantees of statewide substance abuse prevention initiatives, and other communities across the Bay State. Bringing this technical assistance under one umbrella enables communities to compare data, unite around common challenges, and share successful approaches.
“In Massachusetts, more people die from overdoses than from car accidents, so this is a priority area,” explains MassTAPP director Lauren Gilman. “MassTAPP helps communities look at the risks and protective factors for young people starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol.”
In leading MassTAPP, EDC is able to draw on years of expertise in substance abuse prevention, including experience in conducting research, developing materials, and providing training and technical assistance. Expert training and technical assistance activities and events are now rolling out across Massachusetts, via in-person gatherings, one-to-one phone support, and online webinars.
“We can now bring people together who are doing similar things or have similar concerns in different parts of the state,” says Gilman. “We are also making much better use of technology to bring together communities and coalitions, and provide technical assistance, without people needing to travel to meetings.”
Bringing communities together
MassTAPP is educating substance abuse prevention program leaders and service providers on the latest, research-driven strategies to target these issues. For example, using positive messages to reinforce healthy behaviors (rather than negative messages to discourage destructive behaviors) is one strategy being used by more than 10 cities throughout the state in the form of billboards, posters, and other media.
EDC also assists state grantees with using data gathered on drug and alcohol abuse in their schools and communities more effectively—to not only evaluate their needs but to put new programs, policies, and strategies in place and to monitor their effectiveness.
The MassTAPP website provides resources for non-funded communities, as well as for other individuals and organizations who want to learn more about substance abuse prevention. The website includes a frequently updated resource library, funding resources, and notices about upcoming events.
EDC has partnered with two regional organizations to coordinate programs—Bay State Community Services in Quincy, a city south of Boston, and Partnerships for Youth at the Franklin Regional Council of Government in Greenfield, a town in Western Massachusetts.
EDC and MassTAPP are helping Massachusetts communities and programs comply with the state’s requirement to use the federal Strategic Prevention Framework published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The framework lays out a five-step process to guide the selection, implementation, and evaluation of effective, culturally appropriate, and sustainable prevention activities. The effectiveness of this process begins with a clear understanding of community needs and depends on the involvement of community.
“We’re helping individual communities get the information they need to improve on their substance abuse prevention efforts and to plan new initiatives,” says Gilman. “We’re making sure the most effective strategies don’t get lost, but are shared with communities across the state.”
Originally published on June 19, 2013