In the Community Health Assessment survey conducted almost two years ago, the residents of Scott County identified youth alcohol and drug use as the most concerning health issue in our county. As a result, Scott County Public Health applied for (and received) a five-year federal grant to help combat this issue, through the Drug Free Communities Support Program. The premise of the grant is that “local issues need local solutions.” Therefore, the Scott County Prevention Coalition was founded in 2019 and has been creating their coalition from the ground up, based on identified community needs and best practices in prevention.

The Scott County Prevention Coalition is comprised of community members in diverse and various sectors of our community; youth, parents, law enforcement, youth-serving organizations, medical and health care, religious and fraternal organizations, civic organizations, business, media, school, and local and tribal government. We aim to engage all races, ethnicities, ages and experiences to help keep youth safe and substance-free in our communities.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of what we know helps prevent youth substance use (and abuse) has been decreased or eliminated in the last six months. Now more than ever, we need our entire community to gather together to help keep our children safe. We also need creative solutions for our community.

As a means of gathering more information, Scott County Public Health Staff conducted community readiness interviews in July and August. The confidential interviews of key stakeholders in our community included faith-based leaders, people in recovery, medical and treatment professionals, teachers, counselors, law enforcement, mayors, judges, etc. from all geographical regions of the county. Once completed, the interviews are “scored” and then used to gauge how ready our community is to tackle youth substance use, so that effective prevention strategies can be implemented. These interviews have informed us of our top three priorities; prioritize parent and community education around substance use, engage the diverse pool of leaders in our community, and support schools.

First, our top priority is to educate parents on youth alcohol, prescription medication and marijuana use (which includes vaping), so that they can speak with their children in the home and identify signs and symptoms of use. With schools having less in-person time with students, we need parents, now more than ever, to engage with their children in these conversations. Additionally, we need our school boards, city councils, township boards, and fraternal organizations to become educated on youth substance use so that the entire community can better support youth at this time.

Next, we will engage our diverse community in our prevention efforts. To do so we will meet with leaders from various ethnic and faith communities, assisted living facilities, community leadership, government agencies, etc. to learn about their specific community needs, how they can help prevent exposure, and addiction in youth. The creation of partnerships and the breaking down of silos is incredibly important. We believe that youth substance use is not just an individual family problem, but a community concern, and must be addressed as such.

Finally, we will connect with schools to support teachers, school nurses, chemical dependency counselors, administrative staff, etc. We are open to creative solutions to real needs that students and schools are facing, especially during COVID restrictions. This may include, but is not limited to Naloxone training for nursing staff, distribution of curriculum and materials for classroom teachers, staff development trainings, guest speakers, etc. The SCPC has just entered into a volunteer relationship with students from Shakopee High School’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies program, who will be working on creating both presentations and marketing materials around youth substance use for our community.

We cannot raise children alone, and we cannot change our community without education, support and inclusion.

If you desire to be a part of the Scott County Prevention Coalition, please contact Lil Piñero at lpinero@co.scott.mn.us. All voices are welcome.

Lilliam Piñero is a prevention specialist who has over 11 years of experience in the substance use disorder prevention field. She facilitates the Scott County Prevention Coalition and works as a Drug Free Communities Grant Coordinator for the Scott County Public Health Department.

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