Federal grant fuels fight against juvenile drug use

Federal grant fuels fight against juvenile drug use

By Anna Harris (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)

For the second time in five years, the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria has received $625,000 from the federal Drug-Free Communities Support Program — money that will aid the group’s mission.

“The most exciting thing is that we get to continue our work at the same level that it’s been for the past five years and [launch] new initiatives,” said Noraine Buttar, coordinator of the coalition.

Part of the Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria, Buttar’s group targets underage substance abuse, zeroing in on drugs like tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.

“The concern is that substance abuse is linked to poor life outcomes,” she said. “It’s all linked to the alcohol and the drugs. All these risky behaviors are linked.”

The grant, designed for fledgling nonprofit organizations, helped launch the Alexandria coalition and sustain its efforts in the intervening years. Since the group’s inception five years ago, youth substance use and abuse in the Port City has dropped, Buttar said.

“What we can say is the problem [of underage substance use] was greater when the coalition first started in 2008,” she said. “Now we’re actually lower than the national average. … We’re having an effect on the problem.”

Tobacco use has decreased in Alexandria and across the country since 2008. Buttar believes young people’s understanding of the risks associated with products that contain the plant likely lowered rates.

Coalition supporters also saw alcohol use decline among the city’s youth. Of those surveyed this year, 38 percent of high school seniors said they had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days, compared to 40 percent in 2007. Binge drinking — which the group defines as consuming five alcoholic beverages or more in a row — among seniors dropped from 28 percent to 25 percent.

The latest survey also indicated that marijuana use fell slightly among sophomores, juniors and seniors in recent years. However, cannabis use among freshmen has increased from 13 percent to 17 percent.

“What [we’re] doing needs to be based on data,” Buttar said. “We go over facts. [We] can’t tell [teens and the adults responsible for them] what to do.”

Flush with new funds, the group will restart its Parents Who Host Lose the Most awareness campaign in the coming months. The outreach effort is designed to educate adults on the consequences of having — or condoning — parties with illegal substances.

Looking further into the future, the coalition won’t be eligible for the grant again. And since the current rate of donations won’t supplement the loss, the group is concerned.

“[We’ve discussed] other forms of funding through other grants and donations …” said Buttar. “How are we going to be sustainable? … What are some of the bare-boned initiatives that we absolutely need? How do we raise the money, and how do we get the money we really need?”