Last Thursday, September 30, the RCASA (Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse) Annual Meeting was held at the Reading Public Library. This meeting was symbolic because it marked the 5th year of community collaboration to address the serious issue of substance abuse among the citizens of Reading. The Coalition was formed in part because of an increasing number of cases of drug related deaths to young adults prior to 2005.
Since the Coalition was formed in 2006, membership has increased to 525 members and has a Board of Directors with representatives from several stakeholders of the Reading Community including School Committee, Board of Selectmen, Town Government, School Administration, Police, Parents, Students, Board of Health, Mental Health, Clergy Association, YMCA, Pharmacist, Recreation Committee, and the general community. These members meet monthly under the direction of Executive Director Erica McNamara to identify the issues at hand, hear updates of progress, and strategize next steps.
The model has been successful and our community is beginning to see results. At the meeting last Thursday, Erica McNamara, Police Chief James Cormier, and Reading Memorial High School Health and Wellness Department Chair Tom Zaya presented data on the indicators that are being used to measure the progress of the Coalition. The greatest positive changes thus far is in the community response to the problem. One such example is the “Reading Rx Round Up” which is located in the Police Department lobby where residents can dispose of unwanted prescription medication. Since November, 2009 when the program started over 1,440 bottles of prescription medication has been disposed of safely. This means that this medication is less likely to be available in homes for improper use.
Another significant statistic presented was the selling of tobacco products and alcohol in local stores to minors. Because of local community efforts, the percentage of tobacco products sold to minors in compliance checks has decreased from 19% to 0%. A similar trend occurred with alcohol sales to minors with the compliance check decreasing from 15% in 2008 to 0% in 2010. These community changes are important and communicates to our youth that using alcohol and tobacco products puts them at risk and is not readily available in our stores.
However, it was also evident that the work is far from done. Data presented by the group indicated that the number of adult overdoses remains high compared to previous years. The 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, one of the key data sources, for the coalition, shows that 24% of our middle school students have drank alcohol, however, that number is lower than 2005. Another example is with the passage of the new marijuana possession law in 2009, marijuana use is increasing among high school students.
The goals to reach for 2012, which is the last year of the grant, include reducing the percentage of students before Age 13 and in the past 30 days who are using alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. The goals are attainable as the Coalition continues to reach out to students in a variety of means. For example, this year, the RCASA youth crew and administration plan on reaching out more to middle school students to educate them about making healthy choices.
RCASA has proven to be essential partner in reducing substance abuse and abuse in Reading. However, the coalition’s greatest challenge over the next few years is to create sustainability. The federal grant (approximately $100,000 per year) will end in two years and only 50% of the existing coalitions in the country receive a second round of funding. The funding is needed to sustain staffing, program outreach, stipends for the youth crew, administrative support and the evaluator for the program. The coalition is developing a sustainability plan to maintain the human, social, and material resources necessary to achieve the long term goals.
You can access the latest RCASA newsletter which includes the data presentations from the Annual Meeting here. For more information about RCASA, contact Executive Director. Erica McNamara at 781-942-6793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.