March 16, 2019 — The Healthy Directions Coalition commemorated its second anniversary last Wednesday, as it celebrated a statistical decrease in underage drinking in area high schoolers as well as recognizing coalition members who have helped throughout the year.
“Before our work started here in Florence, we had a higher underage drinking rate than the rest of Lane County,” said Abbie Lee of Lane County Public Health. “Around 36 percent of 11th graders reported that in the last 30, they days had used alcohol at least once. Since then, it has gone down significantly. I think the latest number is around 26 percent. That is lower than the rest of the county. I think that’s a huge success. I can’t say that the rate has gone down just because of our work, but whatever it is, we’re happy about it.”
The goal of the coalition, which was formed through Lane County Public Health and is made up of members of local residents, is dedicated to bringing about awareness of, and attempt to lower, teen alcohol use in the Siuslaw region.
Healthy Directions co-chair Bob Teter listed some of the programs the coalition has instituted that may have contributed to the decline.
“We hosted a responsible beverage training for servers here in the community,” he said. “They went through a training with a coalition member, who’s also an inspector, and it was very eye opening. It was more than just how to recognize things [such as fake licenses], but how to communicate with people during these situations.”
Coalition members brought two Minor in Possession (MIP) classes to Florence, which are evidence-based courses that allow youth to think about substance abuse after they have been issued an MIP citation by local law enforcement.
Moving the class location to Florence was helpful to local parents, who had to drive their children to Eugene for the sessions.
As far as handing out MIPs, local law enforcement has stepped up enforcement with more patrols, particularly around times where juvenile drinking spikes.
“We also co-hosted party patrols after graduation,” Teter said. “We worked with local law enforcement to do saturation patrols after those events and have their ears open to where things might be happening. I think we were successful in heading some of those things off. Once the word got out that those were happening, I think it steered some kids from even thinking about it.”
The coalition has been reaching out to youth to talk about alcohol and other addictive behaviors through multiple events, including a screening of the film “Screenagers,” which talks about addiction to technology, at City Lights Cinemas.
“There were kids in attendance and they had questions and comments, and the parents were hearing these kids talk about those experiences,” said Teter. “Technology has almost become a substance abuse, just like alcohol.”
Teter, along with Healthy Directions co-chair Char Reavis, also reached out to youth by appearing on the Viking Hour, a weekly radio program on Coast Radio conducted by students of Siuslaw High School.
“We talked with those students on air, and they had very interesting questions,” Teter said. “It got them thinking, and I was able to continue those conversations with the students through my coaching. It’s nice to see these kids getting involved and engaged on these issues.”
The coalition also conducted retailer environment assessments, where members visited local merchants to see how alcohol was being displayed: if it was at a child’s eye level, if it was out in front of the store, if it was advertised in window.
“How much are these kids being bombarded by the information?” Teter asked. “We just collected that information — we didn’t lecture the merchants — but this led to merchants asking questions like what we’re doing, why we’re doing it. It was an opportunity to make them aware of things they hadn’t thought about.”
One of Healthy Directions’ core principles is not to demonize retailers who sell alcohol nor people who use it. Instead, the coalition recognizes businesses that sell and display alcohol responsibly. Past honorees included Abby’s Pizza, and this year the coalition recognized BJ’s Ice Cream Parlor.
“We want to recognize businesses that provide the community with family-friendly activities, products and services,” Teter said. “This year we’re recognizing BJ’s Ice Cream for having provided the community with space and treats that the entire family can enjoy.”
The coalition also recognized the City of Florence and the Florence Police Department for the National Night Out event, “where families were able to come and build strong relationships with our local law enforcement and enjoy fun activities, food and prizes,” Teter said. “It provided a safe space for partners and families to build connections without a focus on alcohol or other substance abuse. There’s a lot of nonprofits in town that have fundraisers and events that are alcohol focused. We want to recognize this event because it’s nice to have a family-oriented event that was free of that.”
Finally, the coalition recognized Laurelwood Homes, which is operated by the Homes for Good Housing Agency, in letting local groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Healthy Directions use its community center for monthly meetings.
“As you have heard today, Healthy Directions and community members have been working very hard in the community to prevent underage drinking, and educate on the dangers of underage drinking,” Reavis said in closing the meeting. “It is our hope that by doing this work, we can instill a healthier culture around intoxicating substances. Our society bombards us with advertisements that our youth sees and gives the message that it helps you feel better.
“Our task as a coalition is to convey a new positive message that our youth can implement into their brains and into their lives. You can cope with your life without alcohol. You can have fun without alcohol. You can deal with grief and life’s pressures without alcohol. Addiction is not the solution, it’s the problem.
“We give our youth coping tools, we talk to them, and most importantly, we listen.”
For more information on Healthy Directions, visit preventionlane.org/healthy-directions-coalition.