Communities Are Leading the Way to Prevent Youth Substance Use

The Drug-Free Communities Program is the nation’s leading effort to support communities working to prevent youth substance use.

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The Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Program is a nationwide effort, led by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to provide funding and support to community coalitions in their work to prevent and reduce youth substance use. The DFC Program goals are to:

  • Establish and strengthen collaboration among communities, public and private non-profit agencies, and Federal, state, local and tribal governments to support community coalitions working to prevent and reduce youth substance use.
  • Reduce substance use among youth by addressing the factors in a community that increase risk for substance use and promoting factors that minimize risk for substance use.

Data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) show that youth substance use is prevalent in the United States. DFC coalitions prevent substance use by implementing evidence-based strategies and activities at the community level.

Empowering Local Leaders to Implement Local Solutions

The DFC Program supports communities in addressing problems associated with youth substance use by providing funding to over 700 coalitions nationwide. Coalitions are uniquely situated to leverage historical knowledge in their communities and address local problems using local solutions. Coalitions work together with representatives from 12 sectors to ensure that a broad range of community expertise is included. The 12 sectors are youth, parents, business, media, school, youth-serving organizations, law enforcement, religious or fraternal organizations, civic or volunteer groups, healthcare professionals, state or local agencies, and other local organizations. Working together, DFC coalitions empower local leaders to build communities that foster a safe environment for youth to learn, grow, and thrive.

DFC in Action: Coalition Keeps Youth Engaged During COVID-19

Colorado’s Jefferson County Communities That Care (Jeffco CTC) coalition rallied their local youth in the fight against substance misuse. Faced with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeffco CTC drew inspiration from their youth interns on how to keep their community engaged virtually. With coalition leaders deployed to contact tracing roles, nearly 40 youth interns stepped up and created an Instagram campaign that aimed to change social norms about substance use, provide tips for Covid-19 coping, and serve as a support network for their peers.

The interns also helped the coalition stay connected to the school district. After realizing that their high school’s policies on health education were outdated and that health education was not mandatory, the interns organized a forum to discuss policy change. They are now working in partnership with their school district to update the policies around health education requirements in Jefferson County schools and helping direct parents to resources, like the Twelve Talksexternal icon program, to answer any questions they may have about substance use and its impact.

Engaging interns helps the coalition identify risk factors experienced by youth in their community and strengthen community partnerships to accomplish substance use prevention goals. By establishing a virtual internship program, providing formal training, and trusting interns in leadership positions, Jeffco CTC is empowering youth and staying connected with them during the pandemic. The virtual internship appealed to many teens who normally would not have been able to participate due to after-school jobs or limited access to transportation.  Jeffco CTC went on to hire four of their youth interns to become part-time employees.

Prevent Youth Substance Use in your Community by Getting Involved with a Drug-Free Community Coalition near you.

Coalition work is guided by evidence-based frameworks such as the Seven Strategies for Community Changepdf iconexternal icon developed by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and the Strategic Prevention Frameworkpdf iconexternal icon developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and includes activities like:

  • Changing community-wide policies
  • Changing school policies
  • Designing communication campaigns
  • Hosting drug-free social events
  • Identifying opportunities for youth to engage in community change
  • Offering youth and parent education and training
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These policies and activities can help address risk factors for youth substance use, such as the availability and cost of alcohol and drugs, and promote protective factors, such as strong relationships with trusted adults.4,5

Coalitions Are Making an Impact

Evaluation findings reported annually indicate that the DFC program is making a difference in local communities. DFC coalitions reported that substance use declined for youth living in their communities and that they significantly increased the number of youths choosing not to use substances.

Decrease in Self-reported Substance Use Among Youth Living in DFC- funded Communities
The graph below shows the percentage change in past 30-day substance use among middle and high school students
graph of drug use among middle and high school students

*Note: Less than 3% of middle school youth report misuse of prescription drugs in FY 2018

Image source: ONDCP DFC 2020 National Evaluation Executive Summary6

More Information

For more information about the DFC Program National Evaluation, visit ONDCPexternal icon. To see if there is a DFC coalition near you, see Drug-Free Communities Coalitions.

If you are involved in a community coalition and are interested in applying, visit the Funding Announcements page for upcoming opportunities.

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