The recently formed Drug Free Community Coalition, a group created last year in conjunction with Bryan County Family Connection and aimed at decreasing the drug problem in Bryan County, laid out some of their goals for the year ahead during their monthly meeting this past week.
“Whether people want to take notice of it or not, we have a drug problem in our community,” BCFC Director Tara Jennings said. “Unfortunately, it’s not something that is being addressed enough, so the coalition has to take a higher road to create awareness. If we don’t address it now, it will eventually have an even more drastic affect and create a ripple affect that will be felt in every aspect of our community. Right now, statistics show that one out of five can pass an employee drug test. That’s not a comfortable figure.”
The main focus of the recent meeting was putting together data in preparation of applying for a $625,000 state grant to help fund the group’s efforts as the deadline to apply is March 21. The grant entails a maximum of $125,000 a year for up to five years. BCFC Director Tara Jennings said the funds will give the coalition the backing necessary to make a more profound impact on underage drinking and drug use regarding local youth.
“We are on the right track,” coalition chairman Gini Nichols said. “We’ve made a lot of progress with evaluating and assessing the needs of the community and what is needed to eliminate the drug problem in Bryan County. We’ve gotten a lot more people involved since we started as well.”
Nichols said a solid strategy plan has been coordinated and the group is ready to implement some programs and awareness across the county. She said some of this will require the grant money.
“The grant would greatly help us accomplish our goals,” said coalition member and Bryan County Board of Education Director of Student Services Billy McGrath. “But we’re going to be around whether we get federal funds or not.”
If the grant money does come through, it still has to have a dollar for dollar match – this can be in kind or cash. Jennings said only 150 communities in the U.S. will receive the grant. Nichols said current Bryan programs, such as the sheriff department’s D.A.R.E. and Pembroke Police Department’s Fatal Vision/Impact programs would be counted as ‘in kind’ and the grant would “help to enhance these programs as we create new ones.”
The group also discussed erecting some billboards in the county about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, creating an after-school program and curriculum under the name Youth Education Awareness or YEA.
The coalition, in its initial meetings last year, identified alcohol as a local problem and had decided to conduct research before identifying what drugs are the most problematic in Bryan County. Since then, marijuana has been targeted. In addition, Jennings said they are continuing to look at prescription drugs which she said is a rising problem in the area.
“Kids and focus groups we’ve talked to say its (prescription drugs) a problem,” Jennings said. “It just requires a little more documentation before we put it on the forefront. The group plans on contacting pharmacists, local physicians and others in order to gather more opinions and hard data on the topic. One of the biggest forms of prevention in this matter would be awareness of parents to this problem.”
Jennings also said that the group is targeting middle school-aged kids because “data shows us that there is a dramatic jump in statistics of being exposed to drugs between the fifth and sixth grade – it’s the experimental age and the one where we need to make the deepest impression.”
Jennings said one thing the coalition has in its corner is the support of local law enforcement and the county commission. She said a representative of the commission has been at every meeting and Sheriff Clyde Smith has been at most of the meetings. She said the two groups have tapped into the fact that tackling the drug problem would make their jobs easier in addition to enhancing the community.
Jennings said each coalition member represents a different facet of the community and helps give a well-rounded look at the county. She said this is effective for every step of planning and action as the group working toward a drug-free environment.
Nichols added that the group still needs more members and anyone and everyone in Bryan County is welcome to join. She said, in particular, the group could use more local business people and faith-based volunteers. For more information or to join the group, call 572-5778.