Naperville group looking for drug, alcohol abuse solutions

  • Cathy Lozon, a school nurse in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, is a member of the Community Alliance for Prevention, which is conducting a community needs assessment to determine what more should be done to prevent all types of youth substance use. Lozon is chairwoman of a committee that is leading the needs assessment process.

      Cathy Lozon, a school nurse in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, is a member of the Community Alliance for Prevention, which is conducting a community needs assessment to determine what more should be done to prevent all types of youth substance use. Lozon is chairwoman of a committee that is leading the needs assessment process. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Cathy Lozon, a school nurse in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 and Community Alliance for Prevention member, says the alliance will search for substance abuse prevention strategies that go beyond education to change the culture of the community at a grass-roots level.

      Cathy Lozon, a school nurse in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 and Community Alliance for Prevention member, says the alliance will search for substance abuse prevention strategies that go beyond education to change the culture of the community at a grass-roots level. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/19/2015 12:11 PM

A new coalition in Naperville is starting from the beginning when it comes to youth substance abuse prevention.

And the beginning is with the facts.

 

The Community Alliance for Prevention, led by 360 Youth Services, is conducting a community needs assessment to determine how it should focus future drug and alcohol prevention efforts to have the biggest effect. Those efforts likely will aim to change the culture of the community over time so it's less permissive of youth substance use of any kind.

Instead of simply brainstorming strategies to prevent problems such as prescription drug abuse, marijuana experimentation or heroin addiction, the alliance is turning to local research and national resources. Surveys filled out by students in school districts Naperville Unit 203 and Indian Prairie Unit 204, along with best practices outlined by Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, will help the coalition identify local problems and chart a course to solutions, said Karen Jarczyk, prevention director for 360 Youth Services.

"A lot of things that happen to address substance abuse are not in line with what research says is helpful," Jarczyk said. "We're focused on using the best science available."

The 23-member alliance involves many segments of the communities served by districts 203 and 204: high school students and their parents, educators, police, faith leaders, government officials, business leaders, health officials, youth-serving organizations and treatment providers. 360 Youth Services is leading the group using some of the $200,000 in prevention grant funding it receives annually from the Illinois Department of Human Services.

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Together, Jarczyk says alliance members will complete "one of the most comprehensive needs assessments our community has had about substance abuse."

Cathy Lozon, a school nurse in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, is leading the assessment process. She said the review of student survey data will shed light on which young people are using illegal substances, what and how often they use and what consequences their substance use creates in terms of hospitalizations, violence or other crimes.

"As a nurse, I understand the health side of it. And I understand how it impacts the community," Lozon said. "I think I know where we need to focus, but I need to be objective."

Reviewers are breaking down the data by age, gender, ethnicity, languages spoken, economic status and other factors, she said, to get a deeper understanding of youth substance abuse in Naperville.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Understanding the root causes of substance abuse will help the coalition create solutions that go beyond an event here or a parent handout there, said Sandy Stelmach, an alliance member who is a former health teacher and prevention director in Naperville Unit District 203.

"That's why this alliance -- and the work the alliance is going to do -- is even more comprehensive because it goes above the programming. It goes down to the community level," Stelmach said. "We'll look at things that influence the social norms of the community. We'll look at the availability of the substances within our community and at the laws and policies and how they reinforce positive community norms."

A slow process toward grass-roots, environmental change is what the alliance is beginning with the community needs assessment, which could be complete sometime this spring, Jarczyk said.

"How do we make the community healthier so that kids are less likely to use?" Jarczyk said. "It's really about changing the culture in the community and those are the types of strategies that this coalition is going to be focusing on."

Once the community needs assessment is complete, Lozon said alliance members will decide which illegal substances they should focus on for new prevention strategies. The efforts will be based on practices suggested by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America because studies have found them to be effective elsewhere. Planning to implement the prevention strategies the coalition chooses will begin in the fall.

"Many of the prevention programs I've been involved with are based in education -- educating the parents, educating the kids, starting young. Education will always be a part of prevention, but this is a new way of looking at things," Lozon said. "It's for the long term."

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