How a Little-Known White House Drug Education Program is Helping Disabuse Kids from Abusing Drugs

How a Little-Known White House Drug Education Program is Helping Disabuse Kids from Abusing Drugs

Probably the largest drug education program for kids that you never heard of, the Drug-Free Communities Support Program (DFC), awarded $86 million in grant funding last year to 697 cities, towns, municipalities and community treatment centers across the country. The funding is used to help bring the message about the dangers of substance abuse to America's youth. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) program has been ongoing since 1997, when Congress passed the Drug Free Communities Act. Although many, if not most people are unaware of it, the ONDCP says it's "the nation's leading effort to mobilize communities to prevent youth drug use." The DFC is directed by the ONDCP in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which does most of the 'heavy lifting' of administering the program. Grant funding is used by communities and organizations to combat drug and alcohol use and abuse among kids, teens and young adults. The federal grants must be applied for, they aren't just awarded from a list by SAMHSA and the ONDCP. If your grant is approved, it will run from a low of around $50,000 up to more than $100,000 a year. Awards generally continue for 5 years, so a grant of $625,000, for example, is paid out in five annual installments of $125,000.

Union City, NJ gets its first installment

That's what Union City, NJ, received last September - $125,000 - as the first installment of its five-year $625,000 grant. Union City, NJ, lies across the Hudson River from Hell's Kitchen, the one-time bastion of working-class Irish Americans on the west side of New York City's Midtown Manhattan. Today, Hell's Kitchen has joined the gentrification movement that has overtaken Manhattan, with rents and property values soaring beyond the reach of the traditional local inhabitants, most of whom have had to move away. Across the Hudson in Union City, however, things haven't moved as fast. The city's population of just under 70,000 people, living in 25,000 housing units, are jammed into just over a square mile at a density of 51,810 people per square mile. Union City is the most densely populated city in the US and one of the most densely populated cities in the entire world. The city's working class neighborhoods are still mostly working-class. Few fancy and expensive apartment and condo conversions, like those across the river in Manhattan, have sprung up in Union City yet. This kind of urban environment is tailor-made for the stresses that often lead to substance abuse. Like all communities receiving DFC funding, Union City had to come up with a plan. It was required to set up an office and hire a project coordinator to manage things and be a spokesperson, and liaise with the relevant city and county resources. On-going programs to educate the city's youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol had to be created and implemented. Program materials will probably be bilingual because of the substantial Hispanic population, mostly recent Cuban-Americans, in Union City.

Programs are getting results

According to the White House, DFC programs have been successful over the years at helping keep kids off drugs. DFC-funded community coalitions reported "significant decreases" in illicit prescription drug use in 2013 - a 21.4 percent drop for middle school kids and a 14.5 percent reduction for high school kids. With statistics like this to look forward to, Union City officials are looking forward to the new program. Mayor Brian P. Stack told that "this grant will go a long way toward making sure our youth understand the dire effects of substance use." The newspaper also reported that the grant comes at a "particularly poignant time" when the town was still reeling from the deaths of two local teenagers who were struck and killed on the sidewalk by a driver high on PCP. "That was very traumatic for the school community and the Union City community," said Union City Superintendent Silvia Abbato. "Everyone came together, but it shows the dangers of drinking and using drugs. It's very important to let the community know, especially the young community," that drug abuse can have deadly consequences. At a town hall event introducing the program to the public, Union City Police Capt. Brian Wolpert told parents that they need to partner with the police, just as the police work with the schools. His words were translated into Spanish by an interpreter for the many Hispanics in the audience, reported.

State's own program is extensive

Numerous other NJ communities also received DFC grants, so the work to reduce substance abuse using help from the White House ONDCP is fairly widespread in the state. However, the state's own program of grants to communities is also extensive. The New Jersey Alliance to Prevent Alcoholism and Drug Abuse is a $10 million state-level program of grants involving 530 municipalities and communities throughout the state. Called "the largest network of community-based anti-drug coalitions in the nation," the program encompasses thousands of volunteer stakeholders serving on nearly 400 Alliances. New Jersey's approach to funding drug and alcohol abuse prevention is unique in the country. The Drug Education Demand Reduction Fund collects fines from drug offense convictions and distributes the money to counties and municipalities. Each recipient is required to match funding, effectively doubling the grants. Last year the total reached nearly $20 million. Here at Novus, we're always thrilled to hear about the good works being done to help combat substance use and abuse, especially when it involves our nation's youth. Grass-roots community involvement is effective and invaluable. It's good to be reminded that governments at federal, state and local levels recognize the need for assistance at the grass roots level, and that the people of our communities are stepping up and doing what they can to help rid the country of substance dependence and abuse.

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