BLOG: Stark County’s focus on positive prevention strategies

Categories: Blog, Featured News

boy-bubblesThe news is negative…the opiate epidemic, the increasing number of suicides, the impact of marijuana legalization and the availability of alcohol are all public health issues that we hear and read about on a daily basis. The media attention to these issues is important and warranted – they impact our children, young people, families and threaten our communities. As a community, we need to work together to reduce the impact of mental health and substance use disorders in Stark County. Our first instinct may be to capitalize on the fear that we feel and use “scare tactics” as a prevention strategy. Popular belief is that fear alone will prevent risky behavior and motivate people to make safe and healthy choices. And while this seems like a logical and effective strategy, over 60 years of research have proven that relying on fear to prevent substance abuse and other mental health issues does not work. In fact, scare tactics and cautionary tales can actually increase the behavior that we are trying to prevent.

So what is a community to do? We need to focus on the positive and utilize proven, effective prevention strategies. Positive prevention focuses on helping individuals develop the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to make good choices or change harmful behaviors. Positive prevention highlights the proactive steps that people can take to stay healthy and substance free. We need to rely on the research and advocate for prevention strategies that help individuals to develop the skills that they need to succeed. And it’s not just for kids. Stark County adults are also at risk for substance abuse and mental health concerns.

What is happening in Stark County? There are many positive prevention strategies that work to empower community members and protect our community from substance use and misuse. The Stark County Drug Collection Box Network » has established 17 boxes, accessible 24/7 and free of charge, which community members are encouraged to utilize to safely dispose of their unwanted prescription drugs, over the counter medications and pet medicines. The annual Stark County Drug Take Back Day » provides community members with an additional opportunity to safely dispose of medications and sharps, further protecting our community. Drug Free Stark County » in collaboration with the Stark County Educational Service Center has created an online opiate prevention toolkit » that is housed on the StarkMHAR website that provides factual information and drug prevention resources for youth, parents and educators. Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery has made opiate abuse prevention a priority and has worked to create an age-appropriate health curriculum, SAFE HOMe (Students And Families Engaged to Halt Opioid Misuse). This curriculum was developed with the state health curriculum standards in mind and is designed to complement the schools’ existing health curriculum for fifth, eighth and tenth grade students. “We Care at Work,” a Working Partners initiative hosted by StarkMHAR, is a prevention strategy that looks to strengthen the health and well being of the workplace, employees and employers. Stark County is fortunate to have several prevention agencies actively engaged in our county’s schools and providing evidence-based prevention education for children, youth and their families.

Successful implementation of positive prevention strategies involves everyone. Community members need to advocate for evidence-based, ongoing prevention programs that include education and skill development. Communities also need to spotlight the many healthy, drug free youth who are taking positive prevention actions and celebrate how and why they are able to follow through. We need to make healthy choices the norm, not the exception. As a community working together to promote a drug free Stark County, we need to focus on the positive and look for innovative ways to motivate and engage our neighbors to create drug free neighborhoods and communities.

Learn how you can get involved with Drug Free Stark County »

About Fran Gerbig

Fran Gerbig, MPH, OCPS I, is the Health and Wellness Manager for Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery. In this position, she manages the efforts of Drug Free Stark County as it works to develop and implement environmental strategies as well as community education efforts to prevent the use alcohol, tobacco products and other drugs among Stark County youth and young adults. Gerbig holds a Masters of Public Health in health planning and administration from the University of Tennessee and a B.A. from the University of Akron. She is a member of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’s Prevention and Wellness Roundtable, the Statewide Prevention Coalition Association, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Association of Ohio and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. Gerbig also serves on the Stark County Safe Communities Coalition, the Stark County Family Council Ohio Children’s Trust Fund Committee, the Health Stability Impact Council of the United Way of Greater Stark County, the Sandy Valley Drug Awareness Initiative, YOUth Choose, SOLACE of Stark County and the Stark County Opiate Task Force.