Drug-Free Communities Program Successes
A national evaluation conducted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2021 found that 67 million people (1 in 5 Americans) lived in communities served by Drug Free Communities (DFC)-funded coalitions. The evaluation findings demonstrate that DFC coalitions successfully build local capacity to prevent and reduce youth substance use and have a positive impact in their communities.
- DFC coalitions reported decreases in use of alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and prescription drug misuse among high school-aged youth living in DFC-funded communities over a 30-day period.
- DFC coalitions successfully mobilized approximately 30,000 community members to engage in youth substance use prevention/reduction efforts.
- Nearly two-thirds (63%) of DFC coalitions implemented at least one activity in at least five of the seven strategy types.
- DFC coalitions tailored prevention efforts to serve a diverse range of community types and demographics.1
Coalitions focus on advancing protective factors that buffer youth against substance use, such as community involvement, positive contributions to peer groups, and establishing safe and supportive school environments. They also address risk factors, such as perceived acceptability of substance use, availability of substances, and favorable attitudes towards substance use, among others.
DFC coalitions use a model from the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), a national prevention partner, with seven strategies that can bring about community change. Each strategy represents a key element to change individual behaviors and community conditions.
How DFC Coalitions Apply the 7 Strategies for Community Change
For more information on national program progress, read a summary of the DFC National Evaluation Report. The evaluation findings are based on DFC program implementation data from February 2021 to August 2021 and core measures data from 2002 to 2021. Additional details about the program and findings are presented in full in the report.
Collaboration among public health and safety agencies, physicians, mental health and substance use treatment providers, and educators to implement these efforts could save lives.
The city of Kamiah, Idaho, is home to about 3,600 residents on the banks of the Clearwater River and the Upriver Youth Leadership Council (UYLC). UYLC is a coalition that receives funding from the Drug-Free Communities Support Program. Their Youth Advisory Board (YAB) was developed to be the youth-driven and adult-guided part of the UYLC coalition. YAB members are middle- and high school students who are closely mentored by UYLC adult board members to be the future substance use prevention leaders in Kamiah. They meet twice monthly to plan health promotion activities for their peers. During meetings and at community events, youth board members develop and practice leadership skills such as:
- Prevention planning
- Public speaking
- Time management
Teen board members host Red Ribbon Week, a longstanding federal drug prevention awareness campaign, in their schools each year. YAB has grown from five founding members in 2017 to 21 in 2022. Approximately one in four members identify as American Indian. This helps to ensure that prevention activities and strategies are culturally relevant and tailored to the racial/ethnic groups in the area.
As residents of the community of Kamiah, the board’s teen members were aware of the local challenges and risk factors for substance use, like limited recreational opportunities and spaces for youth to spend free time. In turn, they proposed the opening of a teen center to provide a safe place for young people to gather and thrive, a protective factor against youth substance use and other risky behaviors.2 YAB raised $10K to open the teen center – mainly through monthly lunch delivery events, basketball tournaments, and other events featuring community speakers. Through a separate grant, the UYLC coalition secured program funding for cooking, art, physical activity, and basic life skill classes; cultural programs; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities. The popularity of the center in Kamiah inspired YAB to expand its efforts and open another teen center in neighboring Kooskia, Idaho.
Knowing the impact that safe community spaces can have as a protective factor for youth substance use, one of YAB’s founders, Jace Sams, set a goal of opening a community skate park as part of his senior project in his entrepreneurship class. He worked closely with a nonprofit organization to draft the plans. Sharlene Johnson, an experienced grant writer and the UYLC executive director, mentored Jace through the grant process. He wrote op-eds, made community presentations, and surveyed the community for input on the park to support the Tony Hawk Skate Park Grant application. He was successful and was awarded $5,000. The group’s annual community fundraiser breakfast brought in the remaining $10,000. The City of Kamiah agreed to be a partner in developing a skatepark at the city’s Dupont Park after Jace made a presentation at a city council meeting. YAB members worked to clean up the area and park development is underway.
This kind of empowering mentorship that Jace experienced is the hallmark of the YAB program. UYLC operates according to a comprehensive strategic plan focusing on local solutions to local problems, including maintaining a robust positive social norming campaign that prominently features YAB members. In addition, UYLC has an evidence-based substance use and violence prevention program, Botvin LifeSkills Training, built into the school curricula, providing sustainable, practical support to Kamiah youth for years to come.2
UYLC works to bring the community together to provide a collaborative approach to preventing and reducing youth substance use. Surveys show that fewer young people in Kamiah are using substances3:
- 50% fewer middle schoolers reported alcohol use in the past 30 days in 2020 than among the same age group in 2017, and past 30-day alcohol use decreased by 28% among high schoolers over the same time period.
- Although reports of past 30-day use of tobacco and marijuana among middle schoolers increased slightly from 2017 to 2020, use of tobacco and marijuana decreased among the area’s high school students.
- Past 30-day misuse of prescription drugs decreased among all youth surveyed in Kamiah.
“I think our key takeaway is that we were able to decrease the use of almost every substance, including marijuana. Our local data indicated that addressing the root causes of use is of utmost importance.” — Sharlene Johnson, UYLC Executive Director
TPAUD, Trumbull’s Prevention Partnership, is a community coalition dedicated to engaging and mobilizing youth, parents and guardians, and community partners to prevent youth alcohol and drug use, foster social/emotional health, and build a safe and health community. TPAUD’s activities focus on public education about the risks and consequences of underage drinking and substance use, as well as reducing access to alcohol, prescription drugs, and other drugs.
Local data drive what community coalitions, like TPAUD, funded through the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program do to prevent and reduce youth substance use. In the town of Trumbull, Connecticut, local data show that substance use remains low among middle schoolers and has fallen sharply among high schoolers since 2010.
TPAUD has been collecting data on youth substance use trends since 2007, before becoming a DFC recipient. While they were pleased to see that overall substance use rates continue to decline in Trumbull, recent data highlighted concerns related to youth mental health, a proven risk factor for substance use among youth. Data from a 2021 survey indicated:
- 32% of middle school students and 43% of high school students felt “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that (they) stopped doing some usual activities” in the past 12 months.
- More than 1 in 4 high schoolers reported not knowing where to get help if they are concerned about mental health or substance use for themselves or loved ones. Studies have shown that young people with mental health challenges are more likely to use substances.4
Based on the data, TPAUD started the Let’s Talk Mental Health, Trumbull initiative to encourage connection, provide support, and promote social/emotional health. TPAUD partnered with Trumbull Emergency Medical Services, the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Council, and several local counseling service providers to develop the program. The program is a monthly speaker series, open to the community, that highlights topics around mental health and offers practical tools and accessible resources. All sessions are recorded and available through local access cable TV and the TPAUD website.
So far, Let’s Talk Mental Health session topics have included the importance of talking about mental health, the pressure to be perfect and its unintended consequences, how to support the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth, and how to overcome anxiety. The Let’s Talk Mental Health series is a part of an effort to improve the school climate to support students who identify as LGBTQ+, a proven protective factor against risky behaviors like substance use and suicide in young people.
“We are committed to breaking the stigma around mental health challenges and giving our community tools and resources,” says TPAUD Executive Director, Melissa McGarry. “We must start with open conversations about the tough topics families are facing.”
- Executive Office of the President-Office of National Drug Control Policy. Drug Free Communities Support Program National Evaluation. Executive Summary August 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/DCOS-EDITS-FINAL-FY-2021-DFC-National-Cross-Site-Evaluation-EOY-Report-Published-July-2022_dfc_template_2022_JUL13_Clean-DCOS.pdf. Accessed December 22, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences: Leveraging the Best Available Evidence. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- DFCme Reporting system
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). Adolescent Health: What Works in Schools. Division of Adolescent and School Health.