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Coalition forms to battle drug abuse

| June 30, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

Forming a coalition in Lincoln County could be the most proactive approach to battling substance abuse locally, said Linda Ravicher of the Prevention Alliance in Kalispell at a community meeting held Wednesday in Libby.

A cross-section of community members turned out for the Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency Clinic-sponsored meeting, titled ³Helping Our Youth Make Healthy Choices.² Attendees ranged from concerned parents to police officers to students, each person finding common ground in a collective desire to address substance abuse problems in Lincoln County.

For smaller communities with limited financial resources, Ravicher said forming a coalition is the most effective strategy for securing federal, state and private funding.

³It maximizes your resources and allows you to apply for federal grants,² she said. ³It¹s really a win-win situation.²

In the Flathead Valley, the Prevention Alliance has utilized federal grant funds to disseminate information on drug prevention and implement programs that help youth make good decisions.

A Youth Advisory Council in Kalispell provides the city council a different perspective on drugs, offering information that helps the city government steer its plan.

³We¹re now a standing unit of the city government,² said Ravicher, the council¹s advisor.

Grant funding also allows Ravicher and her colleagues to blanket the local communities with information about drugs. As a coalition made up of more than 15 agencies and organizations, the collective group has been successful in changing lives.

The family courts system in the Flathead has assisted both the courts and human service agencies in finding a systematic approach to addressing chemical dependency issues. Ravicher pointed to the media as an effective tool to raise community awareness of the impact of drugs on youth as well as to develop a forum for presenting options and solutions prevention issues.

The adverse effects of methamphetamines and its highly addictive nature were the most paramount concerns addressed at the meeting. Local police officer John Graham expressed his frustration with the overwhelming burden the presence of meth produces and the danger in which it places his coworkers and the entire community.

A property owner discussed how drug use and the resulting mess it leaves behind effects all community landlords. She emphasized the need for citizens to become educated in the signs of meth use and its manufacture.

³Unless you¹re in the trenches, there are a lot of people in La La Land who say there are no drugs in Libby,² she said. ³Everybody needs to know what to look for.²

County attorney Bernie Cassidy described the bulging caseload that meth has created. He underscored the need from the entire community to work together to give youth healthy options and to focus on early intervention to head-off potential problems.

³Our courts and law enforcement cannot do this alone,² he said. ³Meth has got the criminal justice system on the verge of collapse.²

Jackie Jandt, Montana community prevention program coordinator, has been instrumental in assembling coalitions in the state. She told the more than 40 county residents in attendance at the meeting that potential coalition members would have to be committed to the process.

³What you need to do is figure out where you want to go,² Jandt said. ³The community needs to be mobilized behind the program.²

A sign-up sheet passed around at the meeting will serve as the initial phase of recruiting people for the coalition. Jandt said that Ralph Stever, Lincoln County prevention specialist, is one of the most important resources for the community.

³His entire job is coalition-building,² she said.

For a coalition to survive, a core group of members must remain active, each person contributing their respective special skills.

³There¹s no silver bullet for preventing this,² Jandt said. ³It has to be a combination of a lot of sources.²

Lincoln County community members need to speak a common language when discussing the drug problem, Stever said. A coalition will facilitate communication and build cohesiveness in every sector.

³We need everyone to know the depths of the problem,² he said. ³I¹m obsessed with this because I see the impact of drug use in all of our community aspects.²

Jandt said the large turnout at the meeting could serve as a beginning for a much needed ³action plan.² She will return to Libby in August to present a three-day intensive Prevention Specialist Training Workshop for both agency personnel and anyone in the community who feels a need to become part of the solution.

The free workshop will be held on Aug. 3, 10, and 17 for eight hours each day.

³The workshop will help to develop a common language to address change,² Stever said. ³Upon completion of the workshop, each participant will know all there is to know about prevention, have tools to work with, and be aware of programs and funding sources that other communities nationally have used to create change.²

A follow-up to Wednesday¹s meeting will be held on Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. in the County Annex basement meeting room.

³We all have to work together to create a healthy future for our children,² Stever said. ³What I have heard at this meeting is a community desire to take action and develop a frontline for prevention. Now it takes the action.²

For more information about the workshop or prevention, contact Stever at 293-7731.