By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Facts gathered for the following article are part of a three-month investigation by the Pilot.

In the past three years, $745,000 has come to Curry County through Curry Community Health to combat underage drinking, binge drinking and substance abuse.

Last March, Curry Community Health (CCH) was awarded a two-part $372,500 biennial grant from the federal government to address underage and binge drinking and substance abuse. But, this March, one year into the grant, CCH management found grant initiatives were “off course” and is restructuring them, according to CEO Kenneth Dukek.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant is overseen by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and administered by CCH.

According to OHA’s Lucy Longoria, $122,500 is set aside for drug and alcohol prevention, and $250,000 is earmarked to create a Strategic Prevention Framework Partnership for Success.

Communications Officer Delia Hernandez of the OHA said previous OHA funding to CCH from 2015-2017 was $372,500 for a SAMHSA funded project and program.

The grant in 2015-2017 was similar to the grant in 2017-2019 and provided general guidance and accountability for alcohol and other drug prevention strategies and programs, according to Hernandez.

The current grant ends June 30, 2019.

Dukek said, “We need to get all assessments done now. All the groups were off kilter a tad, so we’re working on refocusing, trying to get new people involved, to get the right partners.”

According to the OHA’s Student Wellness Survey for 2016, nearly 37 percent of Curry teens drank alcohol during their junior year of high school and more than 27 percent engaged in binge drinking.

Over a lifetime in Curry County, the likelihood of a resident abusing prescription drugs will climb from 6 to 22 percent, according to the same survey.

Grant documents indicate CCH programs will focus on underage and binge drinking and tobacco use in young adults.

According to Dukek, the grants awarded CCH aim to combat underage drinking, binge drinking and substance abuse through community interactions and efforts created and monitored by CCH. The initiatives begin with youth collaborative groups consisting of local law enforcement, educators and business leaders as stakeholders offering input to CCH.

CCH management would not disclose who participated in these groups, when they were held or whether minutes existed.

Law enforcement

Brookings Police Lt. Donny Dotson said no one in his department is working with CCH on alcohol or substance abuse issues, and they haven’t heard anything about the grant.

Chief Hank Hobart of the Port Orford Police said he has not attended any meetings and has not been asked to consult or participate in any programs.

Chief Tracy Wood of Gold Beach said, “I haven’t heard about it.”

Sgt. Dave Aydelotte of the Oregon State Police said he had not attended any meetings and also had not been consulted.

Sheriff John Ward said he was not aware of any work his office was doing with CCH, although Capt. Mick Espinoza of the sheriff’s office is on the collaborative group for planning.

Jay Trost and Karlie Wright of the Curry County Juvenile Department are also public safety officers and members of the collaborative group, and Trost also chairs the board for CCH.

The Local Public Safety Coordinating Council meets monthly in Gold Beach and gathers law enforcement, public health and safety and judicial officials. The CCH Prevention Team was on its agenda under new business in April, but they did not attend.

Educators

CCH management would not provide the names of educators or administrators working with them.

Gold Beach High School (GBHS) Principal Tim Wilson said he worked with former CCH employee Kim Sanders before she was fired in December and youth advisory councils had met in Gold Beach before she left.

GBHS held a Great American Smokeout event in November, according to Wilson. He said Sanders planned the event.

The Smokeout included incentives for students to turn in tobacco products and quit tobacco.

Motivational speaker Jeff Lewis also spoke during the Smokeout in Gold Beach.

Sanders was terminated in December 2017. Sanders said she is considering suing for wrongful termination.

Brookings-Harbor School District Superintendent Sean Gallagher referred questions about CCH programs to Special Programs Director Angela Crum, who did not respond.

The school district’s Public Information Officer Nancy Raskauskas-Coons when asked if students, administrators or teachers had met with, been consulted by or were working with CCH to prevent underage drinking or substance abuse said she found no evidence of such activity.

Port Orford/Langlois schools Superintendent Steve Perkins said, “No. Nothing, no meetings at all. We deal with Coast Community Health, and haven’t heard about anything with Curry Community Health.”

Pacific High School (Port Orford/Langlois) Principal Krista Nieraeth said she heard about a meeting maybe in Gold Beach but had not attended, and they had not heard about anything else.

Regrouping

Public Health Administrator Ben Cannon said CCH was striving to take a multi-faceted approach that engages all stakeholders.

CCH’s Public Health Prevention Coordinator Beth Beasley added, “All processes take thought and consideration. We can’t just run out there and fix things.”

Beasley and Cannon said they are refocusing working groups and reassessing their programs by gaining input from local educators, law enforcement professionals, business leaders and families.

Both pointed to youth collaborative groups and youth advisory councils as sources of information for this assessment and planning phase.

Youth advisory councils

Youth advisory councils (YACs) are groups of teenagers, generally students, who meet to discuss substance abuse and alcohol use and delineate the reasons for abuse and possible solutions, according to grant documents provided by the state. They can gather and offer information and/or prevent substance abuse and alcohol use through education and peer counseling.

Requests for schedules of future meetings or minutes from previous YAC or collaborative meetings were refused.

Beasley said there were no YACs scheduled, they had met on a rotating basis in Gold Beach and Brookings-Harbor, but she did not have names for past facilitators or students.

Inquiries of the local schools found CCH youth councils had been occurring in Gold Beach where Sanders worked with Wilson, but no other educators or administrators reported working with CCH on substance abuse or alcohol prevention or attending meetings with CCH staff. No faculty members or administrators indicated YACs had met outside of Gold Beach.

YACs are no longer meeting in Gold Beach, according to Wilson, but will restart in the fall.

Focus

Dukek split the goals between substance abuse prevention and treatment and focusing on underage and binge drinking.

“But it’s two different age groups and two different activities,” he said.

Dukek explained CCH is doing comprehensive planning and processing for ages 12 to 20 to combat underage drinking, looking at high-risk or binge drinking in 21 to 25 year olds and addressing prescription drug use and abuse for both age groups.

According to Dukek, management reviewed progress three months ago and programs were “off course.”

Cannon and Beasley said programs would be instigated by a three-person prevention team consisting of Beasley, a prevention specialist and a tobacco specialist. They would not divulge the names of the two team members other than Beasley and said the positions “rotated.”

Dukek later indicated the tobacco position was being filled but had not been finalized.

The prevention specialist position was filled in early March by Johanna Medina, according to Dukek, but had been vacant as well.

Cannon said the new team was working in Brookings-Harbor High School and would be in all schools next year working with administrators.

However, Gallagher said May 2 he had had no contact from CCH about underage drinking or prevention programs.

From the documents

Grant documents established strategies and action plans for the current grant cycle and contained strategies and action plans to continue grant work from the previous grant cycle.

Documents supplied by the state indicate CCH worked with Gold Beach High School Principal Tim Wilson to update codes of conduct to reflect zero-tolerance policies and to work with youth, parents, staff and law enforcement to implement and update such policies.

However, in an email April 6, Wilson said, “We have had discussions to gather information about how schools deal with situations involving drugs and alcohol tobacco. At our last meeting (in April) we decided that their (CCH’s) role was not to be involved in school policy.”

The timeline for completion of these actions was school years 2016-17 and 2017-18, and although the document said the policies should have been agreed upon and implemented by all three county school districts and law enforcement, CCH was not involved with policy in Port Orford/Langlois schools or Brookings-Harbor.

No local law enforcement reported working on these policies.

During this period, parents and the public were to be educated about the new zero-tolerance policies and consequences.

Dukek said zero-tolerance was done long ago and is no longer a focus. “We cannot make the school do these things,” he said. “We can give info and ask them to support us through these ideas.”

CCH documents proposed a Strengthening Families program for the county.

Strengthening Families is an evidence based national program used to develop better communication and coping skills within the families of youth so as to prevent future problems like underage drinking and substance abuse, according to Beasley and Cannon.

The program was included in grant documents and began this March with a training of the trainers.

Sanders said the program was part of her plans, and she was one of the trainers recently trained.

According to CCH officials, five people were trained and are now certified to help families.

CCH hopes to recruit families for the program from referrals from law enforcement, schools, the Department of Human Services, volunteers, and families themselves.

Beasley said families meet once a week for six weeks.

Cannon added, “it’s an upstream approach. It build skills so families work effectively to deal with issues including substance abuse and drinking.”

As of May, Cannon and Dukek said CCH had enrolled five or six families in the program, and CCH’s Facebook page and website included links to a Strengthening Families family camp.

Other documents indicated that, in the school year 2016-17, CCH staff would work with school staff and students to implement the Safe Schools Alliance Model (SSA) as well as positive action mentoring programs.

Students in these programs would work with school administrators to strengthen the consequences for substance abuse.

These programs have not been implemented in any of the county schools, according to school officials.

According to Dukek, SSA and positive action mentors were to be up and running in 2016-17 but, “The committees lost focus and an administrative review found they were off track and not accomplishing their goals.”

He said these initiatives will be behind schedule until the youth collaborative group and youth councils are up to speed, possibly in the next school year.

In the documents, strategies and actions are to have CCH working with the Juvenile Department and DA Everett Dial to revamp consequences for juveniles arrested for underage drinking.

The goal is to have juvenile offenders speak to a youth advisory council at Gold Beach High School, “recognize the effects of their actions on others, have the YAC learn empathy and gain a clear understanding of the circumstances, and then have the YAC use these experiences to create campaigns and strategies to reach peers and mentor other youth.”

However, Wilson said Medina, the new coordinator, started in March and had facilitated two meetings in Gold Beach, but those meetings did not include youth.

Beasley had said in March there were no YACs scheduled.

The documents state YAC should also participate in youth courts and act as “minor decoys” as a means to decrease illegal access to alcohol.

The decoys, in conjunction with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, would attempt to buy alcohol from vendors who could then be prosecuted if they sold alcohol or tobacco to minors.

However, Dukek said plans to use decoys and work with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission had been canceled due to concerns from parents.

Stakeholders

People who were involved in the youth collaborative group had varying reactions to the process. Trost, CCH board chair and director of the Juvenile Department, said the collaborative group was on target.

“We have zero-tolerance instituted with law enforcement and schools and minors in possession will be will be cited and referred to the juvenile department to decide consequences,” Trost said.

But he added that youth advisory groups were started to get input but “not a whole lot got done.”

Former employee Sanders said she was partnering with Trost and with Tim Wilson.

“I was forming a community coalition of people interested in Curry County Youth,” she said.

She pointed to a PhotoVoice on Youtube, a prevention calendar and the Strengthening Families program as accomplishments.

Sanders said she worked “upstream,” in order to prevent substance use and abuse and added, “I hope what we did helps and I hope it goes on,” Sanders said.

Juvenile Department Juvenile Counselor Karlie Wright said the group was working in the right direction and had developed good ideas but expressed concern over turnover and said it was hard to keep things moving forward when there was often a new person in charge.

She estimated four people had worked on the grant over two years and said prevention programs require extensive research and planning.

Programs seldom decrease abuse for the first year or more, she added.

Sanders said her position was vacant during part of the first grant and prior to her being hired in June 2016..

Cannon and Dukek said turnover was not a huge issue because information does not change, but it does take 45 to 90 days to get a new employee “up to speed.”

“It’s tough to recruit people and get them to move here or stay,” Dukek admitted. “And some turnover we have had to cause because programs were not going where they needed to be going.”

Youth advocate Gordon Clay said, “All I can remember we did was a calendar and a PhotoVoice thing, and we only printed about 5-600 calendars — not many for a whole county. It didn’t feel like we were doing things.”

Most of what we did was in Gold Beach, he said. It didn’t feel county wide.

An April 30 report from Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman announced the first meeting of the Brookings Coalition on Underage Drinking Prevention.

“The group is being formed to address underage drinking in Brookings; the facilitator is Johanna Medina from Curry Community Health,” he said.

Brookings Police Sgt. Tyler McCourt attended the meeting as well, according to the report.

With Medina as the special projects person focusing on underage drinking, Cannon said, we have three full-time people working on substance abuse issues.

“CCH will meet its grant obligations in a timely manner,” Dukek said.

In a flurry of recent activity several weeks after the Pilot began questioning CCH officials about the grants, CCH’s Facebook page posted about the actions of a Youth Advisory Committee and Youth Prevention team.

The post pictures the team from Brookings-Harbor High School visiting local alcohol retailers and applying stickers on alcoholic beverages to prevent underage drinking.

“Did you know providing alcohol to minors is up to a $1,500 fine and/or 30 days in jail?” the post reads.

Brookings-Harbor High School Principal Lisa Dion said a youth council in the high school working out of the school-based clinic with CCH’s Heather Serna had presented information on prevention themes, but it is not clear whether those initiatives are related to the grant or the prevention team, and they have not addressed underage or binge drinking.

CCH also held a training in responsible alcohol sales May 22 at the Chetco Community Public Library.

The training, by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, will teach alcohol retailers and service establishments how to follow the law when serving and selling alcohol and how to avoid selling alcohol to minors.

Future initiatives address tobacco sales and tobacco use in the county.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com .

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