Marijuana legalization hasn't changed mission of area drug and alcohol prevention coalitions

Marijuana legalization hasn't changed mission of area drug and alcohol prevention coalitions

Chemical Health Coalitions in Minnesota Continue Efforts to Reduce Youth Drug and Alcohol Use.

Chemical health coalitions in Kandiyohi, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties continue their work to reduce youth usage of drugs and alcohol, even after marijuana became legal for adults.

Thanks to a five-year Partnerships for Success grant from PACT For Families, the chemical health coalitions in Kandiyohi, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties are continuing their work to reduce youth usage of drugs and alcohol, even during a time when public perception of some usage is changing, especially around marijuana.

"Our mission is really focusing on getting education out," said Jessica Johnson, Partnerships for Success program director at PACT. "We do a lot of education with and in the schools for our youth, but also parents, community members, stakeholders as well."

Based on results from the 2022 Minnesota Student Survey, on average, about half of 11th-graders in Kandiyohi, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties feel smoking marijuana once or twice a week carries no or slight risk, though the same survey also shows that the majority of students don't use the drug.

"They do their own research, they are aware" of potential risks such as coming across marijuana laced with other drugs, said Jeremy Evans, prevention specialist with PACT. "Kids are very well-informed."

The three grant-funded, drug-free coalitions — Kandiyohi County Drug Free Communities Coalition , Renville Alliance for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drugs , and Chemical Health Coalition of Yellow Medicine County — take no stand for or against the legalization of marijuana, Evans said.

Instead the coalitions make sure youth, parents and community members hear the facts around not only marijuana use but also around smoking, vaping and alcohol use. The coalitions also pass along how people can get help when dealing with addiction issues.

"We don't make it shame-based," Evans said. "We highlight the risk factors, the resources so families can make informed choices."

To make sure this information gets in front of as many people as possible, the coalitions do various types of media campaigns. This has included billboards, posters hanging in schools, radio ads and in-person presentations.

The groups try to release the information in three languages — English, Spanish and Somali — so even more communities benefit from the messages. More recently campaigns have been launched on social media such as TikTok and Snapchat.

"That seems to be the best way to reach students," Evans said.

The coalitions don't try to preach at students.

Instead, the messaging is focused on showing youth that the vast majority of their peers don't use drugs or alcohol, backed up by data from the Minnesota Student Survey given to students in fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th grades every three years. The survey asks students questions about a wide variety of issues including drug and alcohol use.

"We use positive psychology, positive social norms," Evans said.

The coalitions in the three counties work as closely with the schools as possible. With the change in marijuana's status, Johnson said schools are even more open to bringing in the chemical health coalitions, to speak with the students and answer their questions.

"Schools are very thankful we can offer education on marijuana," Johnson said. "With the recent legalization, it is something they want to get ahead of."

Both Johnson and Evans said the students themselves need to be important players in the work of the coalitions.

"They feel validated that we can come in and have healthy conversations about it, without the stigma." Evans said.

In Kandiyohi County, the coalition receives some additional financial assistance from the county itself, which allows the Drug Free Communities Coalition to provide small grants to organizations, schools, churches and such. The grant funds can be used to help pay for programming and events that help meet the coalition goals.

"It has been really eye-opening to see how schools, kids, communities come with ideas that could be helpful," Johnson said. "We want to encourage other ideas."

The coalition monthly meetings are open to the public and Evans and Johnson urge more people to become involved. The groups are also available to present at clubs and organization meetings.

The five-year grant that is funding the coalitions' work is entering its fourth year. Johnson said the plan is to apply for another grant, and this year the coalitions will be reporting on the work of the last few years and looking for ways to sustain it.

The coalitions will also be talking with schools and other public partners about what areas of drug and alcohol prevention the coalitions should spend time on. This could include more focus on opioids and increasing the time spent on trying to reduce vaping in youth.

"We welcome the conversations," Johnson said.

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Region: Minnesota

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