GRAAB Director Tanya Southerland recently joined the mass of community leaders dedicated to the prevention and reduction of substance abuse, at the annual CADCA National Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.
“It was a good opportunity to network,” said the director of Bradley County’s Going Respectfully Against Addictive Behaviors coalition.
She said it energized the attendees for 2014.
“It lets you know that you are not alone in your efforts in addressing [abuses of] certain substances,” Southerland said. “We all have a common goal.”
The goal of the annual conference is to provide “comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to create community-level change.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration handled the first day’s events with its annual prevention day. Speakers presented on underage drinking prevention, prescription drug misuse, utilizing town hall meetings to prevent underage drinking, collaborating with the suicide prevention community and drug education through museum exhibits.
Southerland said statistics support the need for a continued proactive approach.
Nationwide substance abuse trends reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2012 found 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older had used illicit drug, or abused pyschotherapeutic medication, within the month prior to the survey.
High school and youth trends in a 2013 nationwide NIDA study revealed an increased use of marijuana, a substance often seen as a gateway to heavier drugs.
The research compared reported marijuana use among eighth-graders, 10th-graders and 12th-graders in 2008 to 2013. Eighth grade showed an increase of 1.2 percent with an increase of 4.2 percent and 3.3 percent for 10th and 12th grades respectively.
The report said the increased use reflected “changing perceptions and attitudes.”
The report claimed history shows as the perception of risk decreases, use of the substance in question increases.
Listening sessions with teenagers conducted by GRAAB throughout Cleveland and Bradley County revealed the prevalence of underage tobacco use and prescription drugs.
Southerland said she was shocked.
“In turn, I will ask them where they get [the prescription drugs] from and they say, ‘I don’t know, I get it from a friend,’” she said. “We don’t ask any type of leading questions. We just let them talk about substance abuse and tell us what it looks like in their environment.”
A small group of Cleveland High students filled out surveys created by GRAAB in the fall of 2013. Southerland said a larger survey will be handed out in March at the middle and high school levels.
An additional survey has been created for caregivers.
“In March, we are going to be setting up in places like the YMCA and the library to ask caregivers who have children in the city or county school systems to complete a perception survey,” Southerland said. “We would love participation on this.”
The process will be anonymous. Adults will place completed surveys into a box. Southerland said the forms will then be compiled by a third party.
According to the GRAAB director, Cleveland and Bradley County do not necessarily have a problem at this time. However, she does foresee the possibility.
“I say that due to the large businesses moving in. There is the risk of elements moving in that may not be favorable,” Southerland said. “I think, again, we need to be proactive in identifying potential elements that could be harmful to our youth.”
Forums offered at CADCA’s conference on Tuesday and Thursday addressed the issue of alcohol marketing on the Internet, living above the influence, synthetic drugs and the harms of marijuana among other topics.
Southerland said she also had an opportunity to meet with U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Conference organizers then encouraged participants to meet their congressional representatives on Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann met with Tennessee attendees to discuss substance abuse.
Southerland appreciated the time to speak with the politicians.
“It lets me know GRAAB is not alone in its efforts and challenges in addressing substance abuse,” Southerland said. “I think the big issue is how to make that message meaningful and engaging to meet your targeted audience.”
Exhibits displayed throughout the conference attempted to provide participants with an answer to the dilemma in question.
Southerland said she was inspired by several low-cost, high-impact options.
“We want to tell people the signs. Not every drug is going to have the same physical effects on a person,” Southerland said. “They may not know it. They may not know overuse of something could cause harm.”
Southerland encouraged those interested in learning more to attend the open board meetings.
More information on GRAAB can be found by visiting www.thegraabcoalition.com.