LONG BEACH - WellSpring Community Network has been awarded a grant for $125,000 of matching funds for each of the next five years from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The purpose of the grant is to involve and engage local communities to prevent and reduce alcohol and drug abuse among youth.

The announcement came Aug. 28 and WellSpring chair Rosanne McPhail said, "The Drug Free Communities Program recognizes the great potential of WellSpring to help save lives of youth through prevention and reduction of substance abuse."

McPhail related, "We will hire a coordinator with the grant money and we will work to increase the number of stakeholders in the area. We will use the money to support programs we already have in hand." She added, "We want to strengthen the collaboration and leadership in our community and increase our knowledge of the problem."

A 12-month action plan of the WellSpring coalition includes nine strategies. School board policies will be reviewed and recommendations made by the coalition as needed. Community awareness of substance abuse will increase through media announcements and community presentations and youth awareness will be increased by supporting prevention club activities.

Community norms about acceptance of underage substance abuse will be strengthened and a campaign to increase awareness of prescription drug abuse and their storage and disposal will be stressed. Funding will go for parenting classes that contain a component on substance abuse and more positive youth social opportunities will be planned on a regular basis. Volunteers will be publicly recognized and networking to increase volunteerism will be included in the plan. The plan will coordinate and advocate for increased local funding for other substance prevention efforts, as well.

One way of measuring the 12-month action plan's success will be the Healthy Youth Survey that is taken every two years in the Ocean Beach School District. The survey measures the age of onset of drug use, frequency of alcohol, marijuana and cigarette use, perception of risk of harm, and perception of disapproval by parents to drug abuse. Students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 take the survey.

Healthy Youth Survey results in 2006 revealed that sixth graders in the Ocean Beach School District used alcohol more than twice the state average and marijuana and cigarettes about three times the state average. Tenth graders used alcohol half again as much as the state average, marijuana and cigarette usage was over twice the state average and prescription drugs were abused three and a half times more often than the state average. A total of 515 students completed the survey.

"One of our goals is to reduce substance abuse among youth on the Long Beach Peninsula. Over time we want to also reduce abuse among adults as well by addressing the issues in our community that increase risks," McPhail emphasized. Students in the Ocean Beach School District receive free and reduced lunches 62 percent of the time compared to 38 percent statewide and 16 percent are on food stamps compared to the average of 12 percent.

The five-year grant totaling $625,000 can be renewed for another five years for the same amount if WellSpring can show positive results and successfully re-apply. The Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, D.C. awarded a total of $21 million as part of their Drug Free Communities Program.

Director Gil Kerlikowske, previously police chief in Seattle, said, "The Drug Free Communities federal program bolsters individuals and groups across the Nation in order to improve their communities by preventing drug abuse. Evidence shows that communities receiving DFC funding have lower instances of youth using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. I commend coalitions like the WellSpring Community Network who work tirelessly to prevent and reduce youth drug use across the nation with the aid of DFC grants."

The 161 new grantees were selected from 417 applicants through a competitive, peer-reviewed process. To qualify for matching grants, all recipients must have at least a six-month history of working together on substance abuse reduction initiatives, have representation from 12 specific sectors of the community, develop a long-term plan to reduce substance abuse, and participate in the national evaluation of the DFC program.

The DFC program was created by the Drug Free Communities Act of 1997, and was reauthorized by Congress in 2001 and 2006. Since 1998, the program has awarded approximately 1,500 DFC grants to local communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Palau, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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