Thursday, September 09, 2010
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The story of Healthy Communities Partnership

Part 5: ATOD Task Force measuring successes, striving for more impact

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[September 09, 2010]  In the days following the Fourth of July weekend, a theme emerged in news headlines sprinkled across the country: "July 4 Weekend: Hundreds of DUI Arrests on L.A. Freeways"; "DUI arrests up over July 4 weekend in Arizona"; and "Greenville Makes 31 DUI Arrests During 4th of July Crackdown"; to name a few.

But not in Logan County.

This year, there were no DUIs reported in Logan County on the Fourth of July. And as Michelle Bauer, co-chair of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force of the Healthy Communities Partnership, will tell you, it's part of a growing trend.

"One of our primary goals is to decrease DUIs in Logan County," Bauer said. "And part of our initiative is offering the Safe Ride program."

The Safe Ride program sponsors free cab services on major holidays to prevent drinking and driving.

"We try and do those on nights that are known for heavy intoxication in bars and at homes," Bauer said. "The last two events we did were during the (Logan County) Fair and the Fourth of July, and there were no DUIs reported in Logan County those nights, which was very exciting for us."

As its name indicates, though, ATOD focuses on tobacco and other drugs in addition to alcohol.

The task force began in 1998 as part of the Healthy Communities Partnership, a grass-roots organization aimed at making Logan County "the healthiest community in America." It was created in response to the Illinois Project for Local Assessment of Needs, or IPLAN, required every five years for certification with the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"With the IPLANs, they're supposed to come up with the health priorities for each county," said Kristin Lessen, director of HCP. "And at that time, access to care was one of the priorities … which is what brought about the ‘corn bus.' One of the other issues was substance abuse, so the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force was formed as well."

Over time, as the "other drugs" responsible for the substance abuse evolved, so too did the task force's initiatives. Now, Bauer says there's a new focus on the horizon for ATOD -- over-the-counter and prescription drug abuse.

"We see it in the media all the time," Bauer said. "It's glamorized, you know -- Lindsay Lohan and all the rest; they're prescribed all these different drugs, and they are going to these parties and drinking on all of these drugs, and they're overdosing and taking prescribed medicine that they don't even necessarily need to have."

As the director of transition services and former director of counseling at Lincoln College, Bauer says being on campus helps her to understand drug abuse on the collegiate level.

"We also hear that students are going to what they call 'bowl parties,' where they literally bring medicine from their parents' cabinets and throw them into a bowl," she said. "You pick up two or three and take them with a shot of vodka, and you wait and see what happens. It's so scary."

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To combat this abuse, Bauer says the task force will take a two-step approach -- one step to increase awareness among parents with children who may be exposed to such activities, and another to facilitate a "drug drop" program, where community members can recycle unused medicines.

ATOD's presence in the community isn't solely preventive, however -- it's also fun. Last month, the task force hosted a free community swim party and barbecue at the Lincoln Park District pool.

"We're going to continue to do the bowling parties and swimming parties," Bauer said. "We want to have our names out there as best we can to provide drug-free, alcohol-free events for people in the community at no cost."

Asked what other measures the group plans to take to publicize its cause, Bauer said Logan County can expect a wave of awareness once the school year rolls in.

"You'll see the health department along with us doing several different campaigns throughout the year on smokeless tobacco, especially during baseball season and football season, when the high school kids are back in session," she said.

"At this point, we're open to new ideas and are willing to spend our money in a different way so that we've got more visibility. We're going to be in the basketball booster books, we're going to be on the board at the high school basketball games, so we're trying to get our message out there as visible as possible so we can reach the greatest amount of people."


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