$625,000 Grant To Fight Drugs

Work targeting at-risk youths funded for another five years

Andrew Mansfield
Reporter, The Gardner News

GARDNER  The Gardner Community Action Team will receive a $625,000 federal grant to fund the community coalition’s efforts to curb substance abuse among youth. 

The White House Drug Policy Office has given the coalition the grant to fund years six through 10 of a 10-year federal program it is a part of. 

The primary goal focus of the Gardner Community Action Team is preventing the use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription pills among youth before they use and develop a problem. 

“It’s much harder to stop a problem once it’s already begun. Think of all the resources we spend on people once they are addicted,” said Lauren Saunders, former Gardner Community Action Team coordinator and current Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative Pro­gram coordinator. 

Ms. Saunders said the action team has used funding over the years to make billboards and commercials to promote their message of drug use prevention. 

A new action team billboard at Nu Café that describes how tobacco companies target youth will be put up this week. 

Over the winter, the action team will air commercials on Comcast cable that focus on how to properly dispose of prescription drugs. “We try to engage the youth as much as we can,” said Ms. Saunders. 

The action team works to speak with kids about the social norms surrounding drug use, in an effort to show them substance abuse is not as common as they think. 

Ms. Saunders said that surveys conducted in Massachusetts in 2014 showed that 83 percent of the state’s teenagers do not smoke cigarettes.

“We want to let them know it’s a cool thing not to smoke by highlighting positive behaviors, letting them know that positive behavior is the norm,” she said. 

The grant funding also supports an annual National Night Out event the action team hosts. The event was held Oct. 6 this year and it connects parents and children with community resources that can help people suffering from drug addiction and promote overall community safety.

In past years, the action team has conducted surveys among Gardner High School students to gauge the prevalence of drug use among students and assess their comfort with talking to adults about the issues they face as teenagers. 

In July 2014, the action team was able to fund the trip of two high school students from the Students Against Destructive Decisions group to attend a National Youth Leadership Conference in Florida and report back to the action team with a plan to help reduce drug use among students.

As part of receiving the federal grant money, the action team is required to report all of their community activities to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency. 

The purpose of the federal program, called Drug-Free Communities Support, is to find empirically based solutions to the problem of substance abuse among youth. 

“It takes a long time (to track results). That’s one of the reasons the grant stands over 10 years,” said Ms. Saunders.

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