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Grant Will Help Lake County Towns Combat Youth Drug, Alcohol Abuse

The Lake County Health Department received a national Drug-Free Communities grant for the Lake County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force.

Armed with new resources and ideas, Lake County officials are more determined than ever to reduce drinking and prescription drug abuse among youths.

The Lake County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force recently secured a $125,000 national Drug Free Communities grant that will help local municipalities raise more awareness in the suburbs and implement programs aimed at easing these problems across the county.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce substance abuse levels in Lake County,” said Kristine Andersen, the Lake County Health Department’s coordinator for alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention. “There’s no one (effort) that’s going to change it all, but if you have the right tools and use the right tools at the right time, it can make things so much better.”

The funds are provided by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. They are intended to help the Lake County group, composed of law enforcement members, health department employees and community members, grow more collaborative and implement activities to reduce youths’ alcohol and prescription drug use. 

“What we want to do is mobilize the community and get more parties knowledgeable about the data,” said Andersen, who served as project director for the grant.

To start, the coalition will invite faith-based organizations to join its efforts. “We want them to be aware of the situation and then provide some kind of resources for the congregation,” Andersen said.

In addition, she said, the coalition will work to: 

  • Increase the number of municipalities with social host ordinances and raise public awareness about them
  • Increase the number of police departments that conduct periodic compliance checks at businesses selling alcohol
  • Reduce access to prescription drugs 

“We’re going to try to sit down and strategize what would be a more effective way to dispose of prescription drugs that people have turned in,” she said.

That was also a topic of discussion last week among area . Currently, many local departments transport the drugs they collect to Indianapolis. 

The task force is also reaching out to students in its youth division to help raise community awareness about prescription drug abuse.

“Many people think, ‘Well, it’s prescribed to my grandma, so it can’t be bad for me,’” Andersen said. “What we’re talking about with teens is the recreational (drug use) factor. Teens don’t always think it through because their youths.”

“The nice thing about this grant is there are a lot of things we’re going to be doing, but they are tailored by the community, for the community,” she said. 

The funds will cover expenses such as out-of-state trainings, materials and meeting spaces. The grant will also allow the coalition to hire a project coordinator. Andersen said she hopes the new hire will be in place next month.

The grant is renewable for five years. By 2017, Andersen said she hopes new towns will have joined the task force and that all Lake County municipalities are aware of the resources at their disposal. The group will use results from youth surveys conducted in schools every other year to help gauge the impact of their efforts.

  • Related: 2010 Youth Survey Results

“America’s success in the 21st century depends in part on our ability to help young people make decisions that will keep them healthy and safe,” Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement. “We congratulate this coalition on its work to raise a generation of young people equipped to remain drug free and ready to prosper in school, in their communities, and in the workplace. While law enforcement efforts will always serve a vital role in keeping our communities safe, we know that stopping drug use before it ever begins is always the smartest and most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences.”

Lake County is among 60 new communities across the county and one of only two in Illinois to receive a Drug-Free Communities grant. The Office of National Drug Control Policy awarded $7.9 million in new grants this year. More than 600 other U.S. communities received a combined $76.7 million in continuing grants for their prevention efforts.

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