Chuck Weaver and Vicki Lewis speaking at the event. Photo provided by OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Manager of Trauma Services Stefanie Carter.
PEORIA — In 2012, 32 deaths in Peoria County were directly related to drug or alcohol consumption, including three people between the ages 13 and 25.
The Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Peoria County was recently formed to try to reduce the number of deaths directly related to drug or alcohol consumption in the county. The coalition consists of 12 members, including Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll, who leads the coalition.
“Our mission is to unite community members and resources to ultimately increase awareness of substance abuse within Peoria County and reduce substance abuse in teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 25,” said Ingersoll.
Other members of the coalition include Sgt. Steve Starks of the Illinois National Guard Counterdrug Program, Corey Campbell of the Human Service Center, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Manager of Trauma Services Stefanie Carter, Assistant Superintendent for the Peoria County Regional Office of Education Beth Derry, Hult Center for Healthy Living Executive Director Matt George, Shalonda Knox of the Peoria County Health Department, Vicki Lewis of Dominion Diagnostics, Proctor Hospital Counseling Center Manager Edna Ng, Judy Oakford of the Red Cross, Multi-County Narcotics Enforcement Group Director Rene Sandoval and Peoria City Councilman Chuck Weaver.
The coalition had its first public event last week during an Awareness Breakfast that was held in the Hult Center for Healthy Living. Around 150 people attended the event that outlined the coalition’s first order of business, which is getting all of the junior and high schools in Peoria County to participate in the Illinois Youth Survey.
The Illinois Youth Survey is part of a statewide effort to inform local schools and communities about youth attitudes and behaviors, regarding substance abuse, school violence, school climate and other health and mental health topics. The data obtained through the Illinois Youth Survey allows schools, communities and state administrators to develop strategic plans for promoting healthy behaviors among their youth.
Only about 30 percent of the schools in Peoria County participated in the Illinois Youth Survey in 2012.
“We began analyzing from the Illinois Youth Survey and it came to our attention that only some schools within Peoria County participated in the Youth Survey for grades 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th, and so that prompted us to reach out to the regional Office of Education and hold this Awareness Breakfast to bring attention to this,” said Ingersoll. “2012 data indicates that only 18 of the 34 junior high schools within Peoria County and only three of the 12 high schools in Peoria County participated in the Illinois Youth Survey in 2012. We would like to see all schools within Peoria County participate in the Illinois Youth Survey.”
Derry thinks the coalition will be able to influence all of the junior and high schools in Peoria County to participate in the Illinois Youth Survey when it is next administered in 2014.
“When we only got the 30 percent results, it was just handed out to schools and I don’t think there was any explanation with it and I don’t think there was any emphasis about why it was important and who even wanted the information,” said Derry. “We will just put really positive statements out there about why we want them and really push them to give us this information. If they understand that we’re going to try to use these results to try to really make an impact in our community with the young adult population, I think they’ll see a purpose behind it.”
The results of the 2014 Illinois Youth Survey will help form the coalition’s next course of action, said Derry.
“Our plans and our goals and the things we can put into motion will be based on the data that’s out there,” said Derry. “Right now, we’re just guessing. We think, ‘Oh, there might be a problem with the substance abuse or alcohol,’ or ‘Oh, there might be a heroin problem.’ You hear stories, but then you’re basing what you want to do on punches and stories, so we want the real information.”
The OSF St. Francis Medical Center Emergency room sees about 30 patients a month due to substance abuse. Out of those patients, many of them are young adults.
More people are being injured from substance abuse now than they have in years past, as a result of the emergence of designer or synthetic drugs, said Carter, whose sister died two years ago as a result of substance and alcohol.
“The newest issue is the designer drugs or synthetic drugs,” said Carter. “I feel the use of computers has aided the ability to not only distribute, but to buy these types of drugs via Internet. Couple that with people losing their jobs in a poor economy, people will turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stresses in their lives.
“The important piece of this puzzle is our youth, they do what they see. Our coalition targets the 13-25 year old in the hopes to stop the addiction before it can be started.”
The coalition will hold a public meeting at 10 a.m. March 27 in the Hult Center for Healthy Living, 5215 N. Knoxville Ave., Peoria. They are looking for representatives from several sectors of the community: civic groups, schools, parents, media, business, government, law enforcement, social services, youth, senior citizens, spiritual organizations and the medical community.