While research stops short of concluding that the presence of a federally funded anti-drug coalition in a local community directly causes better substance use outcomes for young people, evidence clearly has been mounting that multi-sector coalitions yield numerous benefits.
Results such as those from the most recent national evaluation of the Drug-Free Communities Support Program won’t hurt the effort to maintain the traditionally bipartisan support in Congress for the program, which was authorized in the Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997. In an environment where Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill bicker incessantly over spending priorities, the Drug-Free Communities Support Program in fiscal 2012 received the backing on both sides of the aisle that resulted in a funding increase of more than $3 million from President Obama’s budget request for the year.
“I believe this program has maintained bipartisan support because it is a community-managed program,” says Gen. Arthur T. Dean, chairman and CEO of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), whose training and research unit conducts the training that is mandated for all Drug-Free Communities Support Program grantees.
CADCA this month issued public comments on the latest independent evaluation of results in communities with the presence of federally funded anti-drug coalitions; the program that is overseen by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has awarded nearly 2,000 grants to communities since its inception. The 2011 national evaluation examined short- and long-term outcomes within coalitions and also compared results in coalition communities with national data that incorporates communities where coalitions have not been formed.
Coalition initiatives mainly target a community’s young people, so the four core outcomes examined in the program evaluations are the prevalence of past-month use in young people, youths’ perception of risk from substance use, the perception of parents’ disapproval of substance use, and the average age of first use of substances.
Interim findings from the most recent evaluation stated that both short- and long-term changes on many of these variables were positive for communities, with long-term changes more prominent. For grantees that reported data in 2010, alcohol use was found to have declined at both the middle and high school levels since their prior data report. But marijuana use in high school actually increased slightly, “a result that is in line with national trends,” states the report.
When comparing results in coalition communities against those from a nationally representative sample of youths taking the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), the evaluation found significantly lower 30-day use rates for alcohol in coalition communities in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and significantly lower marijuana use rates in each of those years except for 2009. No significant differences were seen in this particular analysis for the prevalence of tobacco use.
Sue Thau, who directs public policy efforts for CADCA, says the coalitions’ data-driven approach in communities allows them to respond in a rapid fashion to emerging problems, and therefore to have an early and significant effect on use rates.
“They were the first to realize that K2 and Spice had become a major problem and that they were being sold in convenience stores,” Thau says of community coalitions. “They were on the front lines of the prescription drug abuse problem,” and often mobilize into action well before national survey results begin to highlight new drug use trends officially.
The Drug-Free Communities Support program requires funded coalitions to include active participation from 12 specified sectors of the community, ranging from youths and their parents to law enforcement officials, schools, businesses and health professionals. Coalitions receive a maximum of $125,000 a year in federal money, and the latest evaluation reported that federal funds account for just 36% of coalition budgets nationwide; coalitions are required to secure matching funds for their federal grant awards.
For the fiscal 2013 federal budget, the Obama administration once again has proposed its suggested 2012 spending level of $88.6 million for the program, which in its first year of existence in the late 1990s was funded at $10 million. Thau and her colleagues are pushing for maintaining the current $92 million spending level.
Dean says the program has demonstrated that “a little bit of federal investment brings you a lot of community participation and effort, and has results.”