Jackson County coalition lands $625,000 grant to curb underage alcohol use, opioid abuse

MAQUOKETA (AP) — A federal grant gives a local coalition a big boost to help curb underage alcohol use and opioid abuse.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recently awarded $625,000 – $125,000 per year for the next five years – to the Jackson County Prevention Coalition for a drug-free communities project.

"We were pleasantly surprised," said coalition member Julie Furne, prevention specialist with Area Substance Abuse Council. "We had applied in the past and had been unsuccessful."

The money will be used to help pay local law enforcement agencies performing alcohol-compliance checks at Jackson County businesses, to reduce the amount of unused prescription drugs in the county and to fund other substance-abuse-prevention strategies, as well as support training and travel associated with coalition efforts.

"(Julie) looks nationwide at the key strategies to reduce substance abuse, and she brings those ideas back to our coalition," said Scott Warren, executive director of Maquoketa Area Family YMCA and a past president of the coalition. "We identify the strategies we want to use, and we implement them in Jackson County."

The coalition is composed of school, law enforcement, government, health care and business representatives, as well as residents.

"(The grant) was needed in the area, even though we were up against a lot of other areas that need those dollars," Warren said. "We look at alcohol density – which is the number of places that serve alcohol in the county per capita – and we're quite high. We also look at things like the misuse of prescription drugs. This is a need in our area."

The Telegraph Herald reported in 2016 that officials said there was a rate of 77.5 alcohol licenses per 10,000 people in Jackson County. That compared to the state rate of less than 43 per 10,000 people.

At that time, Jackson County was one year into a five-year Iowa Partnerships for Success program that targeted 12 counties in the state that were among those most in need of help addressing underage drinking.

In the 2014 Iowa Youth Survey, about 37 percent of 11th-graders in Jackson County reported having a drink in the past 30 days. The statewide average was 23 percent.

The latest grant also will help Jackson County increase efforts regarding prescription drug disposal.

"We do have some drop boxes, but this could help us hold collections in locations that don't have drop boxes," Furne said. "We could also use it for securing medication. That could mean purchasing lockboxes for people."

Warren said lockboxes could help limit one potential supply of opioids.

"Once you're addicted to it, you will get it from any source possible, and if Grandma is taking it, you're going to take a couple pills from Grandma," he said.

The grant represents a portion of $90.9 million the federal government is providing to 731 local drug prevention coalitions.

The funds become available Sept. 30. Furne said the coalition can apply for a second five-year grant when the initial award expires.

Local officials are encouraged by the duration of the grant.

"Any kind of support we can get for our students to educate them is going to help," said Tom Meyer, superintendent for Bellevue Community Schools. "Anything we can do to keep it in the forefront is going to help, and if you're going to make a difference, it has to be a continuing presence.

"When it's an ongoing grant, there is a commitment that has potential for an impact."