BY DEBBIE PAGE
debbiepage.iredellfreenews@gmail.com

Drug-Alcohol Coalition of Iredell Director Shane Nixon challenged coalition members to define the group’s “why” and to evolve to meet the increasing education, treatment, and recovery needs of the community after two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

“The ‘why’ affects our energy and level of enthusiasm,” Nixon said during ta recent meeting of DACI members, “and our why is ‘change’ in our community.”

Nixon, who started in his position in April, said the group should strive to seek positive, systemic, specific, and community level change to tackle the increasing use of alcohol, the misuse of prescription and street drugs, and vaping.

He noted the coalition’s purpose is to work together to tackle substance misuse in all age groups.

“We need to unite as a community, regardless of politics, to address substance use disorders. We need to make a tent big enough that we all can function in,” he said.

Nixon said though DACI needs more administrative help and faces some paperwork backlog challenges. Nixon and Kristen Blumenstein, project coordinator for the Drug Free Communities Grant, are well on their way to working through these issues and moving forward.

Using revamped work group and action teams, DACI will focus on creating events that increase community participation and engagement in substance use issues. A focus on stewardship and generosity will also help DACI fund these efforts, along with several recent, long-term grant awards.

Nixon wants the coalition to move forward with clarity, transparency, unity of purpose, and intentionality as DACI formulates and executes its plans to reduce substance misuse through its education and prevention outreach efforts.

DACI’s ultimate goal, said Nixon, is to “improve the quality of life in our community and focus on preventing drug and alcohol misuse and overdose deaths.”

The coalition’s Drug Free Communities Grant has a youth focus that will be a powerful tool for DACI over the next five years. The grant training focuses on a data-driven approach to determine the causes of youth substance misuse in a community and to use the data to develop strategies to combat the problem.

DACI has hired an evaluator to develop collection tools to assist Nixon, Blumenstein, and coalition members to gather and evaluate data. One focus area on which DACI wants to collect data is alcohol-friendly events in the community.

DACI coalition members are being trained to use a digital survey tool to collect data in an “environmental scan,” looking at how the event was promoted, if promotion was being geared toward youth, if safeguards (ID checks, bracelets, etc.) were being used to stop underage drinking, and observing for underage consumption.

Blumenstein said data collection specific to Iredell County is crucial to determine “where we need to be working and what we need to be working toward but also to see if it’s working and where we might need to redirect.”

In the past two months, Nixon and Blumenstein have visited other coalitions in the area and attended National Coalition Academy training to gather ideas and learn how to collect the necessary data to help DACI build effective leadership, plan future events, set specific goals, and run efficiently and effectively.

Nixon noted that each coalition across the nation that he and Blumenstein encountered in visits and trainings did its work differently to meet the needs of its specific community, but the one commonality was that the successful ones all had active, committed coalition partners who got the work done.

“We have a chance to make real, positive, lasting change in Iredell County,” Nixon declared.

The way to effect change is through coalition’s work groups, which Nixon wants to make more fluid. Instead of being rigidly focused on group’s named focus, checking off boxes, and handing over its work, the group needs to bring its work efforts to the coalition and look at how all members can take the group’s progress to the next level.

Groups must be in a constant process of brainstorming, networking, rebuilding, and coalescing with others in their prevention efforts. “Each group must see itself as one part of something important – solving Iredell County substance misuse,” added Nixon.

Members next shared the difficulties for groups to meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of task specific group goals, the outdated focus of some groups (naloxone, provider training), and the lack of flow between groups.

Nixon proposed revamping work groups into three general areas: administrative (website, podcast, newsletter, media releases, social media); projects (events, specific tasks, programs); and data collection (ongoing, oversee collection, create reports for grants and accountability of efforts).

Nixon also noted that addressing the root community causes of misuse will help DACI zero in on the most effective strategies, events, and outreach to tackle the problems. The Centers for Disease Control data generally identifies these root cause as community social norms, favorable attitudes toward consumption, social and retail access, and parental attitudes.

DACI can initially use survey data, interviews, and law enforcement and health department data to drill down to the substance use issues most prevalent in Iredell County to help sharpen its focus.

A subcommittee is also being formed to revise the DACI mission statement and vision to a focused, measurable cornerstone to guide future efforts.

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