Calling on the communityThe Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition draws on community support to inspire change.
By: Joseph Boushee , Grand Forks Herald
North Dakota leads the nation in binge drinking among people 12 and older. It ranks near the bottom among states that perceive it as a problem.
The Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition in Grand Forks is building momentum to turn those statistics around.
The coalition has about 150 members from many segments of the community that represent a broad range of interests — from schools and universities to health care, law enforcement, public health and human services, city leaders, the court system, the faith community, the Grand Forks Air Force base and citizens.
The coalition also has a core leadership group of about 15 members. Together, the coalition is using research, education and evidence-based solutions to reduce negative consequences associated with alcohol and drug use.
“It certainly brings a lot of experience to the table, and a lot of passion also,” says coalition member Bill Vasicek.
Currently, the coalition is taking aim at binge drinking and underage access to alcohol.
“It’s been the collaboration of all these people that has been absolutely critical,” says coalition member Brianna Crawford. “This is a really crucial time, and I think the momentum is continuing.”
Vasicek, community safety coordinator at Altru Health System, says many of the partnerships the coalition has built go back many years, and there is a deep interest among stakeholders to reduce alcohol-related problems.
“They have a lot of good ideas,” he says. “They love the community they live in and they want to help make it safer for everyone.”
Crawford says the coalition is not intending to send a “no use” message on alcohol. It’s not against the responsible use of alcohol or establishments that sell it. But it is working to reduce the negative consequences associated with misuse and abuse of alcohol.
The coalition has proposed a set of “environmental strategies,” solutions that introduce change in the community that make it harder for minors to access alcohol and less conducive to behavior that leads to binge drinking. Its strategies involve:
n Social host liability laws: Policies that hold the noncommercial servers of alcohol liable for knowingly providing alcohol to a minor or a clearly intoxicated person who is later involved in an accident that results in injury or death. Such laws would limit alcohol availability and reduce the chance of negative consequences.
•Happy hour restrictions: Limiting drink promotions that facilitate over-consumption of alcohol by making it more affordable and appealing.
•Restricted sales of alcohol at public events: Policies that control the availability and use of alcohol at public activities. Decreased availability will lead to decreased use and a reduced risk of negative consequences.
•Alcohol outlet density regulation: Applying policies such as zoning and licensing to reduce alcohol outlet density or limit an increase in density. Of particular importance is proximity to locations where youth live and work. Decreasing alcohol outlet density results in decreased use, abuse and negative consequences.
Other strategies the council is exploring include alcohol compliance checks, sobriety checkpoints and price floors, which set a minimum price for alcohol at all alcohol outlets.
The coalition is working to establish a task group to help implement its strategies. It will develop a plan that specifically fits Grand Forks, Crawford says. The task group will be comprised of a range of stakeholders from around the community, representing such entities as law enforcement, education and the hospitality industry. Crawford acknowledges that there is “a lot of work yet to be done, but the momentum is there, so I think that’s really a positive.”
Crawford cites the assistance of the Grand Forks City Council’s Service Safety Committee as a stepping stone toward implementing its strategies. The committee has dedicated three meetings so far this year to alcohol issues. Crawford says the partnership with city officials has been positive, and the hope is that the committee can help the coalition recommend ordinances that lead to policy changes.
“I think we’ve come a long way,” Vasicek adds. “We’ve seen a lot of positive changes, and we’re hoping for more.”