Community coalitions are the change makers in substance abuse prevention

This week I’ve begun a transition professionally as I prepare to end my current role as Substance Abuse and Tobacco Prevention Manager at Healthy Androscoggin and begin my new role as the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc.  As transitions in life tend to go, they bring up a period of reflection.  I have worked as a substance abuse prevention professional at Healthy Androscoggin for the past 5 1/2 years.  In that time we’ve been fortunate to see many success stories and some great, positive changes in terms of the data around youth substance abuse in Androscoggin County.  This is thanks, in large part, to the Drug Free Communities grant and model that has been in place in Androscoggin County since 2004.

The Drug Free Communities Support Program is a federal grant that provides funding to community coalitions that are addressing youth substance abuse prevention in their communities.  Successful applicants that continue to make progress and meet programmatic goals can receive up to 10 years of funding.  But this isn’t just dishing out free money, coalitions are expected to match federal funding with in-kind funding and/or donations.  When you get to years 9 and 10, as in Healthy Androscoggin’s case, you are expected to provide a 150% match to the federal funding.  Essentially, from the beginning, coalitions are expected to have some skin in the game, and continuously working towards self-sustainability.

For over a decade, Drug Free Communities coalitions across Maine have been engaging with multiple community sectors to create a unified, community-driven approach to reducing youth substance abuse.  Coalitions leverage local expertise and build capacity to engage in strategies that foster positive community environments where our youth are at less risk for experimenting with substances and becoming addicted.  Here is a small sampling of some of the successes achieved by the Drug Free Community coalitions in Maine:


  • Rates among Maine high school students for alcohol use, tobacco use, prescription drug misuse, cocaine, heroin, and inhalants (aka “huffing”) have all observed notable decreases between 2009 and 2013.


  • Alcohol and/or drug related crashes among 16 to 20 year olds decreased from 151 crashes in 2009 to 82 crashes in 2013, representing a 46% reduction.
  • Alcohol and/or drug related crashes among all drivers in Maine have decreased from 1,425 crashes in 2009 to 1,154 crashes in 2013 (almost a 20% reduction).


  • Perception of harm among Maine high school students from binge drinking increased from 2009 (73%) to 2013 (81%).
  • Perceptions of getting caught by parents for alcohol steadily increased from 2009 (42%) to 2013 (47%).

Here in Androscoggin county, we’ve seen how this model makes significant, measurable changes in the community.  One of the best examples is that thanks to our multi-sector, multi-pronged approach to youth alcohol use, Androscoggin County has consistently had the lowest underage drinking rates In Maine.  There hasn’t been any one silver-bullet in these efforts.  It has been many programs and initiatives that have worked towards fostering community norms that discourage youth alcohol use.  These include community awareness campaigns, training alcoholic beverage servers and retailers, enforcing underage drinking law campaigns, and youth-led social awareness programs in schools.

As we move forward as a state to wrap our arms around the increasingly dire heroin epidemic, community coalitions should play a key role in these efforts.  Fortunately, it appears that this was recognized at the Governor’s Drug Summit, as a three-pronged approach has emerged which includes a focus on education and prevention.  I think one of the most powerful resources DFC coalitions have at their disposal is that multi-sector representation within their ranks.  There is no one segment of government or communities that can take on this battle by itself.  There is a role for everyone to play.  The DFCs have the unique ability to mobilize the community to address emerging drug trends.  We’ve demonstrated that success with alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs, I strongly believe if integrated into the statewide approach to heroin, we can help realize some measurable successes there as well.

I feel fortunate that in my new role I will still be able to collaborate with my DFC colleagues from across the state.  The individuals who coordinate and direct these coalitions are top-notch, intelligent, and innovative leaders in their communities.  They bring together local parents, youth, and community leaders who generously donate their time and energy to better their community.

If this article has inspired you to become a part of these efforts, seek out your local Drug Free Communities coalition and ask about how you can help.   We are always looking for new community members to join our coalitions.  If you don’t have a DFC coalition serving your community, get folks together and start one up.  Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America has a great page with tips and tools on how to start a community coalition.

Become a part of the substance abuse prevention engines that are making change in Maine.






Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.