Implementing a Strategy to Leverage Media to Address Substance Use in Dallas County, Alabama

At a glance

Drug Free Communities of Dallas County (DFCDC) is addressing substance use among youth by delivering a message of hope through media and strategic communication in their community.

Screenshot from the DFC Dallas County Jr. Hope Show. Photo credit: Drug Free Communities of Dallas County

Drug Free Communities of Dallas County

Drug Free Communities of Dallas County (DFCDC) is implementing a strategy to address substance use among youth by delivering a message of hope through media and strategic communication in their community. In 2021, opioids were declared the greatest drug threat by law enforcement in Alabama.1 As stated in the Alabama Threat Assessment, "Both law enforcement respondents and treatment and prevention respondents reported marijuana as the second most available drug in Alabama and the Alabama Department of Mental Health lists marijuana as the number two illegal drug according to treatment admissions, based on the drugs monitored by the Gulf Coast HIDTA."1 DFCDC Director and Alabamian, Jerria Martin shared her thoughts on poverty rates, literacy, gangs, drugs, and violence in Selma, Alabama in 2015 prior to the development of Drug Free Communities of Dallas County. She stated, "From the churches to the education system to even the healthcare system, everybody, especially in impoverished communities, lacked hope."

This is where the concept of "Hope Dealers" was born. DFCDC defines a Hope Dealer as a beacon of light that brings hope to their community regarding substance use and other issues. Participants don't have to be an official coalition member to be a "Hope Dealer." Youth, parents, schools, and other sector representatives are "Hope Stars" and law enforcement partners are "Hope Enforcers", but anyone committed to increasing hope in the community can be a Hope Dealer.

To highlight the importance of substance use prevention and encourage solutions to local community concerns, the DFCDC hosts two radio shows, The Hope Show and The Junior Hope Show. Dr. Martin leads The Hope Show every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 9:00am on the local R&B station, 94.7 WJAM, where she hosts discussions about substance use prevention and other community issues with sector representatives and leaders. After the first show in 2017, DFCDC's community media partner suggested expanding the programming and creating a youth-led talk show on the #1 local Hip Hop station.

The Junior Hope Show is hosted by four junior Hope Dealers every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 7:00pm on local radio station 96.3 DA BOMB. Junior Hope Dealer programs are in every middle and high school in Dallas County and range from ages 11-19. At the beginning of each school year, students can audition for a host role. Every aspect of The Junior Hope Show is youth-led, and the interviews are conducted from the youth perspective. Junior Hope Dealers interview young people and adults that work, live, and play in the community.

Recently, The Hope Show hosted an "Alternative to Opioids" segment, where a local physical therapist provided information about non-opioid treatment for pain relief and shared how to access these alternatives locally. In September 2022, both shows hosted a "Recovery Month Special," where they brought on Teen Challenge & Drug Court participants to share their personal testimonies with the youth and community. Other shows have featured the city police chief, a multi-county level district attorney, and the county sheriff to talk about the latest drug trends in Dallas County and the role DFCDC can play in reducing youth access to drugs and other substances (i.e., marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs, and tobacco). The superintendents of both local school systems have been featured on the show to share how they're partnering with DFCDC, parents, and public safety officers to support their schools in being drug-free. Jerria says, "We really try to work our way through all 12 DFC sectors, hearing from each of them throughout the year." Each quarter hour of an episode has an average of 3,685 listeners on air.

DFCDC also has a series of substance use prevention focused YouTube videos. Each video addresses a different topic related to substance use prevention. Video topics include:

  • Properly storing prescription pills
  • Recovery tributes based on personal experiences
  • Youth choosing to be drug free
  • How to say no to drugs

The most recent video titled "Drug Free Like Me" includes the city mayor, city police chief, county probate judge, county sheriff, multi-county district attorney, school principals, and pastors, all rapping about the importance of being drug-free. This video was published in June 2022 and already has over 11,000 views. The music videos collectively have reached over 200,000 people.

Additionally, DFCDC has a Facebook page highlighting connections with the community through their "daily moments of hope" initiative. Each day, they post a short video of a community member sharing facts about drug use and why they are a proud Hope Dealer.

"We get messages all the time on our social media pages with folks wishing us well in our mission, who've never met us before, but were inspired by our message. Teachers are always sharing how they play our songs for the youth, whether it's elementary or preschool, they all look up to the bigger kids in our music videos. All in all, we've definitely made an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of many." – Jerria Martin

Incorporation of media and communication continues to comprise their programs and initiatives. The coalition partners with local newspapers and magazines to run ads and share current and upcoming substance use prevention projects. DFCDC remains committed to intentionally meeting their community members where they are, providing substance use prevention education resources, and distributing hope throughout Dallas County, Alabama.