STAFFORD – Stafford Township officials and members from the DART Prevention Coalition came together for a Substance Abuse Needs Assessment, to determine the most pressing needs of the township in terms of alcohol and drug use.
Held at the Bay Avenue Community Center, the meeting brought together various individuals from the township’s Municipal Alliance, including Betti Anne McVey, Stafford Township Recreation Director.
McVey explained that a needs assessment is performed every five years to reassess and address the township’s needs as they evolve with time. The previous assessment determined that underage drinking was the most popular issue in Stafford, she said.
Also present at the meeting were numerous concerned residents and members from the DART Prevention Coalition of the Institute for Prevention and Recovery at RWJBarnabas Health. DART facilitated the needs assessment in order to gather local input that would help them work with the township to create accurate and helpful substance abuse prevention programs.
“The DART Prevention Coalition focuses on preventing underage drinking, prescription drug abuse and the illegal use of marijuana and tobacco in Ocean County. DART is comprised of community leaders including law enforcement and government officials, educators, business owners, substance abuse professionals, clergy and youth,” according to Abigail Thompson of DART.
DART has partnered with the Ocean County Health Department, LBI Health Department, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, and NJ National Guard Counterdrug Taskforce to conduct various needs assessments throughout the county. The township’s Municipal Alliance falls under the jurisdiction of the Ocean County Health Department, according to McVey.
The county hopes to use the findings to not only create resources and prevention programs, but also to collect county-wide data on the substance abuse trends in the county.
“The analysis of this information is securely released to towns and further release of this information is at the discretion of individual towns. Our needs assessment process includes a variety of methods, including community surveys, focus groups, and key informant interviews,” according to DART’s website.
This facet of the needs assessment was simply a focus group discussion between township residents and officials as to what they all considered to be the most pressing needs in terms of drug and alcohol abuse. Sitting around a table in the community center, DART was able to collect information about Stafford’s substance abuse trends through resident’s shared personal experiences.
While Officer Christopher Fritz of the Stafford Township Police Department noted that he believes underage drinking to remain the number one substance abuse issue in town, the residents spoke up about other concerns, including marijuana use and the increasing popularity of vape devices.
With new substance abuse trends cropping up, such as JUULs (a kind of e-cigarette) among the younger generations, Thompson noted that the county also performs smaller assessments within the five-year period between formal needs assessments to accurately track how certain trends are progressing over time.
In order to address the consistent issue with underage drinking, Officer Fritz listed some of the programs already in place to educate kids about the dangers of substance abuse, including the STYLE program in Southern Regional Middle School and High School; Second Step in 3rd-6th grades; Not Even Once in 11th and 12th grades; and Project Aware for elementary schools. Each of these programs addresses a different approach of substance abuse prevention in different age groups.
Thompson noted that this meeting was just one facet of how DART goes about collecting data for the needs assessment. The results will not be released until the county collects all the necessary data.
If you were unable to attend the focus group, you can still participate in the needs assessment via an online community survey. Find the survey and more information about the process at ochd.org/alcohol-and-drug-services/.