Substance Use Decreases When School District and Community Partner, Plan, and Act
"If you go in and say,
we’re not going to
do this anymore,
well, that isn’t
going to work."
Pat Smith, Project Director
Project SAFE, Putnam County Educational Service Center
The alcohol consumption rates in Putnam County—located in Ottawa, a community in northwestern Ohio—have typically been above the national average. Despite cultural norms that did not consider drinking to be a concern, the Putnam County Educational Service Center (PCESC), along with the support of Project SAFE—a coalition of local schools and community partners that includes law enforcement, juvenile justice, community substance abuse and mental health agencies, hospitals, the local health department, the United Way, and faith-based organizations—established goals to increase the age of first use of alcohol and to decrease the amount of alcohol consumed.
PCESC and its partners started the planning phase of the 3 Bold Steps by using local data and input from community members to identify needs. Group members carefully selected evidence-based interventions (EBIs) that were in line with their goals and then narrowed down the list. School staff across the district reviewed the potential EBIs and voted for Project Northland—an EBI that aims to delay the age that youth begin drinking and to limit alcohol-related problems among those who already drink. By having local staff choose the programs, the school-community partnership increased the chances of the program being sustained because of local buy-in. Project Northland also promotes student leadership, engages parents, and addresses community issues that impact drinking.
While implementing Project Northland, PCESC collaborated with its community partners to increase public awareness campaigns about the dangers of alcohol. For example, to raise awareness about the risks of parents serving alcohol at teen parties, the group arranged for billboards, radio and newspaper advertisements, and signs placed around the community to promote the message “Parents Who Host Lose the Most.” PCESC also expanded Red Ribbon Week (a national week-long substance abuse awareness campaign) into a monthly campaign, where schools develop programming, activities, and media materials to raise awareness about different substance abuse prevention and other health topics each month.
PCESC’s efforts have shown success in reducing youth alcohol use—and the group is committed to sustaining effective substance abuse efforts in the long term. The district continues to train school staff to be Project Northland trainers, and the program also continues to enjoy widespread support from the community and its many partners who share the goal of continuing to reduce youth alcohol use.