Tester announces grant to curb teen substance abuse

Kristen Cates

by Great Falls Tribune

The Alliance for Youth has found new resources to help curb substance abuse in teenagers.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, announced Monday that Alliance for Youth will receive $125,000 to help its efforts with multiple community partners to reduce teenage drinking, drug use and prescription drug abuse.

Alliance for Youth is one of several agencies across the state receiving part of a $750,000 grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Tester said the grants are being distributed to agencies with broad-based coalitions working to address these issues.

Tester said data from the U.S. Department of Public Health and Human Services shows that Montana’s high school students are above the national average when it comes to binge drinking, driving drunk and abusing prescription drugs.

“We have to do better for our most valuable resources,” he said.

Kristy Pontet-Stroop, who directs Alliance for Youth’s youth advisory council, said the crew has been busy trying to spread the message that substance abuse has long-lasting ramifications. In October, the group will be revealing more of its efforts to curb prescription drug abuse among teenagers.

Allie Phillips, a senior at Great Falls Central Catholic High School, worked on the “sticker shop” campaign this summer. Kids went into beer coolers at local businesses and put stickers on all packages reminding consumers it is unlawful to purchase and distribute beer to minors.

“We go into icy-cold coolers and put stickers on every case,” Phillips said.

Kendall Such said the youth advisory council will begin a campaign in October on how to properly store and dispose of prescription drugs, among other things.

Janet Meissner, executive director for Alliance for Youth, said the grant will continue to help fund some of the work the youth advisory council is doing as well as digging deeper into some of the roots of substance abuse among children.

Meissner said new research is showing a strong link between children who are victims of child abuse and neglect becoming more prone to abuse drugs, alcohol and tobacco later in their adolescents. Alliance for Youth is working with various agencies around the community to do assessments so that everyone is better equipped to understand the far-reaching impacts abuse and neglect has on children beyond the physical and emotional harm.

Additionally, the grant will pay for the school district’s lead counselor to training to come back and be able to teach and train all staff on assessing these issues, Meissner said.

Tester said the goal of the grant is to see Montana’s sobering statistics decreased and be at the national average if not lower. It’s a one-year-only grant. The more information these different agencies can provide, the more impact he believes the grant will make. Every agency receiving grant funding has some sort of component that involves working with youth to develop strategies.

“It’s got to be presented in a way that (kids) absorb it,” he said.