EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs (HHD) is extending its work in youth substance abuse prevention and treatment through a new partnership with the local MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation. The Foundation has launched a three-year initiative to combat youth substance abuse, with HHD serving as its MetroWest Technical Assistance Center (MTAC) for five communities (Framingham, Hopkinton, Needham, Bellingham/Milford, and Wayland) in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts. The initiative aims to prevent alcohol and drug use among middle and high school students, improve screening of those at greatest risk for substance abuse, and enhance access to treatment.
Martin D. Cohen, President and CEO of the MetroWest Foundation, said, “We’re thrilled to get this initiative off the ground. The data continue to show that youth substance use is a pressing problem in a significant number of communities.” Indeed, the 2003 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated that 46% of all Massachusetts high school students have used alcohol within the past month (compared to 44.9% nationally), and an equal number have used an illegal drug at some point (compared to 11.2% nationally among youth ages 12-17). In addition, young people who are under the influence of substances are more prone to engage in risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving or unsafe sex.
“While there is already an extensive body of research on effective strategies for preventing and reducing youth substance use, many communities have not yet tapped into this research, creating a gap between research and practice,” says Diane Barry, director of the technical assistance center. Over the next three years, HHD’s MTAC will be working closely with each of the five MetroWest communities to translate research into action. MTAC will help grantees to develop research-based prevention, screening, and intervention strategies.
MTAC will also help communities develop coalition-building skills, which will be pivotal in redressing substance abuse issues. In order to make the initiative truly successful, efforts will need to go beyond schools and parents. The nature of substance abuse requires ‘multiple strategies in multiple domains.’ Implementing these strategies across domains will mean enlisting the help of a comprehensive network of partners, such as police officers, faith-based groups, local neighborhood organizations, the media, medical providers, and even neighboring communities.
MTAC will convene school/community teams from the five communities and beyond for regular thematic seminars to learn the latest research and share challenges and strategies. “We know that communities work best when they support each other,” says Barry, “so we are forming a learning community among the towns through regular thematic seminars with the goal that these towns will become a resource for each other and the larger MetroWest region.”
In May, MTAC held its first thematic seminar focused on “Best Practices: Encouraging Parent & Youth Involvement.” During these sessions, which will occur three to six times per year throughout the initiative, participants will be encouraged to discuss what is and is not working in the communities, identify barriers and opportunities, share lessons learned, and develop and hone leadership skills.
“This is a great opportunity for HHD to flexibly test and adapt our resource center model developed over the last eight years working as CSAP’s Northeast CAPT,” says Tania Garcia, director of HHD’s Northeast CAPT. “It is also an opportunity to share our research knowledge and experience with local communities in an intensive way.”
Originally published on August 1, 2005