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Muskegon County Coalition Recognized Nationally

By Heather Lynn Peters, MLive |
on February 05, 2015 at 2:54 PM

MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI — A coalition in Muskegon County has been recognized nationally for its efforts to reduce alcohol, tobacco and prescription drug use in the area.

Members of the Coalition for a Drug Free Muskegon County, established by the Health Project, were in Washington D.C. on Thursday, Feb. 5 to receive the Coalition of the Year award.

Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson, who is vice chair of the coalition, said he was proud to represent the area at a national event.

“It’s really kind of an honor and privilege to be here as part of the representation for our coalition. It was cool to be asked to come along. To be recognized as the most outstanding coalition of the year out of 5,000 coalitions, it shows what we are doing in Muskegon county is working,” Hilson said.

The coalition was named the GOT OUTCOMES! Coalition of Excellence Award winner by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, said Laura Fitzpatrick, coalition manager and advocacy and community benefit program manager for Mercy Health in Muskegon.

On Thursday, nine Muskegon County officials were at the Washington D.C. event, including law enforcement, members of public health and Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office officials.

“I’m really excited that we tapped into our youth voice,” Fitzpatrick said of the group’s award. “The chiefs and officers are passionate and they’re doing great.”

In a press release, Fitzpatrick said the commitment the coalition has to the community is truly “making a difference.”

“Muskegon has had a long-term commitment to youth substance abuse prevention and our members have worked tirelessly. Our data-driven action teams and innovative initiatives are reducing drinking and smoking by our youth,” she said.

“Combined with a community of dedicated volunteers and leaders, we are making a difference.”

Speaking by phone earlier this week, she said the coalition was incredibly excited to put Muskegon on the map in a positive way.

“With our work in the coalition, we really have to make sure to connect the indicators. We are getting an award for reducing drug use in our community,” she said. “We set out on this journey 10 years ago. This is really exciting. ”

The chairman and CEO of the national coalition praised the local group for its efforts.

“Curbing underage drinking and tobacco use is no easy task, but by putting in place a comprehensive set of strategies the Coalition for a Drug Free Muskegon County made a significant impact on this problem in their community. CADCA is proud to call this coalition a member of ours and we are excited to be able to name them Coalition of the Year,” Gen. Arthur T. Dean, CADCA’s chairman and CEO, said in a press release.

The local coalition chairperson, Kate Kesteloot Scarbrough, said the award “recognizes the power of passionate people to make healthy changes in their community.”

“We looked at our community data, crafted solutions unique to Muskegon County and worked hard to make them happen,” Kesteloot Scarbrough said in the same news release.

Fitzpatrick said that the coalition uses data to prove results and that data is looking strong in recent years.

She said annually law enforcement and coalition members team up to train 280 alcohol retailers on alcohol beverage issues.

According to data released by the Muskegon coalition, fewer minors are consuming alcohol.

There’s been a 16 percent reduction in ease of access to alcohol, and recent alcohol use and binge drinking by youth declined by 38 percent and 47 percent, respectively, between 2008 and 2014, Fitzpatrick said.

The Muskegon Alcohol Liability Initiative, Drug Free Muskegon County’s action team on alcohol, worked with schools, she said.

“With our alcohol group that works specifically in alcohol issues, we started working really hard to enhance enforcement and to make sure that retailers had the right education to train store clerks, and we continue to work with them,” she said.

Several “decoy” operations — undercover police officers or minors working for law enforcement attempting to buy alcohol from retailers — were conducted.

“When they pass, we recognize them with a letter, and those that don’t pass get the citation,” she said. “Muskegon is doing some amazing things and we’re glad to be part of that dialogue. We want to make sure that our business and youth are protected at the same time. We’ve tried to approach it in a positive way.”

Here’s a look at the numbers backing success, according to Fitzpatrick, in other areas by the coalition:

  • KnowSmoke: The initiative under the direction of Drug Free Muskegon County worked to educate the public on tobacco use. A total of 204 restaurants became smoke-free in Muskegon County over a five-year period, Fitzpatrick said. The coalition data reflects a 23 percent decline in youth access to tobacco, and a 39 percent decline in the number of youth reporting recent tobacco use from 2008 to 2014.
  • Muskegon Area Medication Disposal Program: The group started by Drug Free Muskegon County in 2009 has collected more than 16,000 pounds of unused and expired medications by hosting multiple medication take-back events, and established permanent collection sites at all county law enforcement agencies and eight retail pharmacies. Approximately 850 pounds of materials collected were controlled substances. MAMPD has an annual campaign about the topic. Here’s more information on that:
  • Alliance for Marijuana Prevention Unifying Parents: This group was established in 2013. The alliance is continuing to collect data on the topic and offers a phone app to assist the public. Muskegon County’s campaign directs parents to the TalkSooner smartphone app, which regularly updates parents on emerging drug issues. Here’s information on that:

The “tools” the coalition has been able to provide the community is really making a difference, Fitzpatrick said.

“We actually give the tools for the leaders in our community, give them the resources and make sure they have the data to connect,” she said.

Hilson said it’s great the success is backed by numbers.

“It’s nice that it’s making a difference, particularly for young folks and it’s really neat to be recognized on the national level. Obviously the showing of our work is in the data and it was all really positive,” he said.

According to the press release, the Coalition for a Drug Free Muskegon County was formally established in 2004. There are over 75 active members among 48 local organizations that work work on alcohol, tobacco, prescription drug and marijuana initiatives.