As its name boasts, Gateway to Prevention & Recovery strives to battle issues like substance abuse and poverty, etc., so they cannot secure a foothold on the community. Much of that battle involves pre-emptive strikes — knowing that preventive measures can yield a substantial variety of benefits in all areas of life, whether it be physical, emotional, financial, or relational, among others.

THE ISSUE: Gateway to Prevention & Recovery is actively seeking to partner with many different agencies to combat the upward trend of marijuana use and prescription drug misuse in the area.

LOCAL IMPACT: Through the data-sharing network, local groups can use their programs and resources more productively and efficiently, without adding to their workload.

As its name boasts, Gateway to Prevention & Recovery strives to battle issues like substance abuse and poverty, etc., so they cannot secure a foothold on the community. Much of that battle involves pre-emptive strikes — knowing that preventive measures can yield a substantial variety of benefits in all areas of life, whether it be physical, emotional, financial, or relational, among others.

As such, the Shawnee Youth Coalition (SYC) is on the front lines fighting for the community's future — its children and youth.

Covering four counties, SYC's Director of Prevention Services Jon Greenwood met with several agencies Thursday in hopes of gathering contacts and data from different sources that all encounter, on some level, people and/or situations affected by trending problems in the area.

Greenwood said the more data he can get his hands on, the better able he is able to effectively combat those issues. The team would meet quarterly as a community-wide workgroup to help with assessment data.

“Getting assessment data is useful to really know if you're program and resources are being directed in the right way,” he said.

Through this network of partners he hopes to glean beneficial data from work agencies are already doing.

The goal is that in everyday work team members will mindfully take note of things that apply to the overall effort and share it with each other as they can, he said.

About two years into a three-and-a-half year grant cycle, Greenwood said SYC's priority right now is focusing on marijuana use in Shawnee and prescription drug misuse in Pottawatomie County.

“We deal with all areas, like alcohol, etc., but right now the data is showing an upward trend in marijuana use,” he said.

He said the goal is to get ahead of that curve to put an end to disturbing and problematic trends.

Marijuana use

Enlisting the help of Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) nursing students, an assessment was done in Shawnee to gauge how ready the city is to address the issue of local marijuana use. Students interviewed people from different sectors of the city and reported their findings.

The assessment is necessary for Gateway to work the most productively and efficiently, Greenwood said.

He said he can be all fired up about combatting the issue at hand, but if the community isn't ready he won't make much progress.

“There are several stages of readiness,” he explained. “We stand right now at three — out of nine stages.”

The stages of readiness are:

1. No awareness

2. Denial/resistance

3. Vague awareness

4. Preplanning

5. Preparation

6. Initiation

7. Stabilization

8. Confirmation/expansion

9. High level of community ownership

Greenwood said understanding where the city is in regard to dealing with the issue helps his office know where to start the battle.

“Shawnee is reportedly in the vague awareness stage,” he said.

We first need to raise the level of awareness, he said.

Prescription drug misuse

Jessica Eddings, regional prevention coordinator for Gateway, shared data gathered by St. Gregory's University nursing students pertaining to prescription drug misuse in Pottawatomie County.

“The age group we looked at was 12 to 25 years old,” Eddings said. “Misuse scored in stage 4: preplanning — so there's clear recognition in the area that there's a problem and something needs to be done.”

The Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment is done every even-numbered year for sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders.

Data gathered shows that some of the Pottawatomie County rates were higher than the state rate.

“For (misuse of) pain relievers, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders were higher than the state rate in each grade,” she said.

For 12th-graders, 18.3 percent had — in their lifetimes — misused prescription drugs, and the state rate is only 13.6 percent, Eddings said.

For lifetime use of stimulants, sedatives and pain relievers, we're higher than the state rate for eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade across the board, she said.

“In 30-day use, sixth-graders rated a little lower than the state, but not a whole lot; the other grades are higher,” she said. “So kids are starting young. This is not something they are waiting to do.”

For sixth-graders, 42.9 percent said they were getting the medicines from home, Eddings said.

“For eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders,” she said, “about 55- to about 67-percent of those age groups said they got it from friends.”

The accessibility is still there, she said.

Greenwood said previously Gateway has had a serious push for safe storage and disposal in hopes of dropping those numbers.

The surveys serve as an important tool to pinpoint local data, Greenwood said.

“Most information we have is statewide; this survey is the only one we have that can give us local figures,” he said. “We hit some barriers with that sometimes with participation because it's so difficult for schools to work it in.”

He said the state generally wants to administer the survey in the spring — the same time school testing is slated; Greenwood is pushing for a shift to the fall.

“This local data is vital to us, as well as the schools — it can help them qualify for grants,” he said. “We need this so we can have a true picture of where we need to spend our energy and our time.”

Representatives from the community, other Gateway services, the Shawnee Senior Center, the Oklahoma National Guard, Shawnee Housing Authority, Department of Human Services, various health agencies, and tribal and county health departments were in attendance.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.