HOULTON, Maine — Aroostook County is making strides in its attempt to curb underage drinking and overall drug abuse.
Officials at the Aroostook Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition said this week that newly released figures show the organization’s alcohol prevention strategies have helped decrease teenage drinking by 4 percent from 2006 to 2009.
The 2006 data were gathered from the Maine Youth Drug & Alcohol Use Survey and compared with 2009 data from the Maine Integrated Youth Survey. Both surveys ask questions about drinking, drug use and other risky behaviors.
“These figures were good to see,” Claire Desrosiers, ASAP Coalition project director, said earlier this week. “We have worked hard with our partners to put forth programs that are of benefit to both youth and people like store owners and store employees, as well as law enforcement.”
The ASAP Coalition is a countywide substance abuse prevention group with 12 member agencies representing multiple community sectors and geographic areas. Its purpose is to bring County communities together to address substance abuse issues.
Desrosiers said that in each survey, seventh- through 12th-grade students were asked: “On how many occasions (if any) have you had beer, wine or hard liquor during the past 30 days?”
The data from both surveys revealed that during 2009, 4 percent fewer students in Aroostook County said they had taken a drink in the past month than had said so in 2006.
Desrosiers noted that the 2009 figures are preliminary.
Data gathered by ASAP also showed that its Diversion Alert Program, which provides information to doctors about individuals arrested for prescription drug abuse and diversion, has helped 53 percent of participating health care providers stop prescribing controlled substances to patients who were abusing prescriptions. Data also show that 38 percent of participating health care providers stopped prescribing controlled substances to patients selling their prescriptions.
Desrosiers credited a number of its programs with helping to reduce the level of underage drinking, including the “Parents Who Host Lose The Most” effort and various prevention campaigns.
The Parents Who Host Lose the Most campaign was launched in The County in 2008. As part of the program, local radio and television stations ran advertisements focused on educating parents about the risks of hosting alcohol parties for teens.
The ASAP Coalition also has given grants to numerous law enforcement agencies to fund underage drinking enforcement activities. The group also has granted money to schools in Aroostook County to help them implement activities that can help curb underage drinking.
“Those programs and grants have helped us educate more people about underage drinking,” Desrosiers said.
She said the coalition has several plans in mind to assure even better results in the future.
“We are now going to focus harder on educating legislators more regularly about issues that we are facing,” she said. “We also are going to talk to them about how their vote affects substance abuse prevention, not just here, but across the state. We want to see more focus on funding for prescription drug prevention.”
The group also will concentrate on educating the elderly about the proper way to dispose of unused prescription medications.
While The County is working to do more, Desrosiers said, the state can do more as well.
“We need adequate funding for prevention,” she said. “Most Aroostook County programs are federally funded and that money will go away.”
She added that the coalition also would like to see more money for compliance checks to ensure that everyone is doing their part to curb underage drinking and drug abuse.
“When the Bureau of Liquor Enforcement was eliminated a few years ago, that really hurt efforts to keep people compliant with the laws,” Desrosiers said. “I believe that if more is done in terms of compliance checks, it would be a huge help in terms of prevention.”