In a gathering earlier this week of the Bradley County Health Council, held at the Women’s Center of SkyRidge Medical Center, Tanya Southerland, executive director of GRAAB and Joyce Vanderpool, GRAAB program director, spoke to those in attendance about the beginning of a new SADD chapter in Bradley County. The purpose of SADD is promoting school, faculty and student leadership in order to promote safe communities throughout Tennessee. The SADD mission is to “provide students with the best prevention tools possible to deal with the issues of underage drinking, other drug use, impaired driving and other destructive decisions.”
The SADD brochure further states that while SADD began to help young people say “no” to drinking and driving, the mission has been expanded. “Students have told us that positive peer pressure, role modeling and environmental strategies can prevent other destructive decisions and set a healthier course for their lives. That is why SADD has become a peer-to-peer education, prevention and activism organization dedicated to preventing destructive decisions, particularly underage drinking ... teen violence and teen suicide.”
SADD tailors prevention efforts targeting all forms of drug use; promoting skills to resist drug offers; building social competency skills; promoting normative education designed to correct students’ misperceptions about their peers’ drug use; fostering a strong parent component; reaching out to all diverse populations, including children with behavior problems or learning disabilities; providing interactive methods, such as peer discussion groups; launching youth media campaigns and promoting youth health and safety policy changes.
In order to assist schools and communities in planning, implementing and evaluating effective prevention plans, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions Across Tennessee assists connections that provide training and technical assistance for a school’s current prevention efforts and well as many other services. The organization, with headquarters in Nashville, may be reached at 615-227-5250 or by fax at 615-227-5249. Further information is available at www.cadcat.org. Project director for communities is Cynthia George at firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization is made possible through a grant provided by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Governor’s Highway Safety Office.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Southerland and Vanderpool spoke about GRAAB’s efforts to address addictive behaviors in the local area. The GRAAB coalition goals for Cleveland and Bradley County include reducing underage drinking, reducing prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse and inhalant abuse; educating youth and families on the risks associated with alcohol, tobacco and other drug use and abuse and supplying information to the community on identification, treatment and recovery from addictive behaviors. GRAAB also hopes to sponsor educational programs in the community for people of all ages.
Community partners with GRAAB include the Behavioral Research Institute; Audio C (Against Underage Drinking in Our Community); 10th Judicial Drug Task Force; Bradley Initiative for Church and Community; Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders Today; Department of Children’s Services; The Santa Project; ReStart Coaching; Cleveland Housing Authority; city of Cleveland; Cleveland City Police Department; Bradley County Sheriff’s Office; Bradley County and Cleveland City Schools; Bradley County Juvenile Drug Court; Hiwassee Mental Health Center; Action Counseling; J.A.D.E.; Boys’ and Girls’ Club; YMCA; Cleveland State Community College and Lee University.
Southerland noted that “as a nonprofit organization, we vie for grants. We got the grant.” GRAAB was founded as a program of Safe Schools/Healthy Students with initial funding from the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive. New grant money is through the Drug Free Communities program and can be renewed for up to five years at $125,000 per year.
“We are also trying to reduce prescription drug abuse,” Southerland said as she conducted a PowerPoint presentation. She noted that Tennessee is the second most-medicated state in the nation and that some residents of Tennessee take up to 17 prescribed medications. Some senior citizens, she said, regularly take two to six prescription drugs.
“The need for substance abuse treatment,” she remarked, “should double by 2020. That says it all. It’s becoming epidemic.”
While GRAAB never advises people to stop taking their medications, she said there’s a need to educate citizens about the safe way to dispose of old or unused medications, as well as ways to keep them away from teenagers.
Drug problems in America have become so desperate, Southerland related, that people touring houses for sale have been known to steal medications from the seller’s house.
A main purpose of GRAAB, Southerland and Vanderpool emphasized, is the implementation of a prescription drug management and disposal program. Expired or unused medications can now be turned in to the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, but there is a specific process to complete that can be tedious. In disposing of drugs, it’s important to keep the “chain of custody” intact, Southerland said.
“The only safe way is incineration,” Vanderpool added. However, people often just put their expired medications in the trash can or flush them down the toilet. Both methods are wrong and harmful, causing drugs to eventually enter a community’s water system through the ground.
The GRAAB leaders provided handouts detailing ways teenagers in particular get high on prescription and over-the-counter drugs, a dangerous practice. Statistics show that one in five teens have tried Vicodin, a powerful and addictive narcotic pain reliever; one in 10 teens have tried OxyContin, another prescription narcotic; one in 10 have used the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall for non-medical purposes and one in 11 teens admit to getting high on cough medicine.
“Nor are parents aware that their own medicine cabinets and home computers are potential sources of these drugs for teenage abuse,” the publication declared. “If your teen gets in the habit of using medicines that are not medically intended for him or her, or of taking higher-than-recommended doses just for fun, bad things can happen: Dramatic increases in blood pressure and heart rate; organ damage, addiction, difficulty breathing, seizures and possibly death.”
The main reasons for the increase in teen prescription and OTC drug abuse, a drug-free publication explained, are more awareness and access. The Internet also provides information of all kinds, good and bad. Parents are advised: “It’s up to you to educate yourself about the real dangers of prescription and OTC drug abuse and to discuss these risks with your teen. Kids need to hear from parents that getting high on legal prescription and OTC drugs is not safer than getting high on illegal street drugs.”
A secondary emphasis of GRAAB, according to material the group distributes, is inhalant abuse, or “huffing.” Some drug abusers use aerosol products to get high. The products are highly dangerous.
More about GRAAB can be found at www.graabcoalition.com or by calling Southerland at 423-790-5568 or Vanderpool at 423-472-5800. Every effort is being made by GRAAB to combat drug abuse through education and offering creative alternatives to destructive habits.
“Collaboration with the community is the basis of tackling the problem,” Southerland said. “We need your help to work together as a community. We want to be able to say together, we did this. We want awareness ... the next step is action.”