SIKESTON -- A nine-county area in Southeast Missouri is the site of a new $1 million federally-funded faith-based methamphetamine and inhalant prevention program called SEMO Prevention.
The three-year program is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, the Missouri Institute of Mental Health (MIMH) of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Mission Missouri of Sikeston.
"Often, communities rely solely on the schools for substance abuse prevention," said Janie Pfefferkorn, executive director of Mission Missouri. "However, for prevention to be effective, other entities in the community must also be involved. It has been demonstrated that churches can play an important role in drug abuse prevention among young people. This project will strengthen the ability of faith organizations in Southeast Missouri to serve as resources in efforts to prevent substance abuse."
SEMO Prevention targets middle and junior high school aged youth in the counties of Butler, Cape Girardeau, Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Ripley, Scott and Stoddard. Mission Missouri was one of 12 recipients awarded the grant in the nation and the only faith-based organization that received the grant, Pfefferkorn pointed out.
Jane Topolski, Ph.D., principal investigator for the project at MIMH, explained that Missouri's rural areas have been hit particularly hard by meth. Missouri ranks first among all state in the number of clandestine meth labs seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to a 2002 survey of Missouri students in grades 10-12, methamphetamine use is higher among female students as opposed to male students because many times meth is used as an appetite suppressant.
In 2002, nearly 11 percent of the students reported using inhalants, the survey reports. Also, there were 425 admissions into substance abuse programs in 2002 in the nine-county area of the program.
Most of the resources for combating meth have gone to law enforcement. Few resources have targeted preventing its use. The use of inhalants is another area in which the resources for prevention have been scarce. Inhalants are among the most accessible substances on the market because they are everyday products that are used around the house. Gasoline, glue and other common household substances can all be deadly if used to get high.
Daphne Walker-Thoth, co-principal investigator for the project at MIMH, said that though SEMO Prevention, a model prevention program called Life Skills Training will be adapted so that it addresses meth and inhalants in addition to its current focus on alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
Life Skills Training was tested a few years ago in two churches in St. Louis. The newly adapted Life Skills Training will be piloted during a summer day camp at Mission Missouri in 2005. After the program is piloted, some 30 faith organizations in the nine-county area will be trained to implement it. Simultaneously, a community awareness multi-media campaign will be launched in the counties to create public awareness about the problem of meth and inhalants.
In addition, the counties will assist in the development of a web site that will offer screening tools for substance abuse and information about treatment referral sites in addition to facilitating the exchange of ideas and information related to Life Skills Training. As the project unfolds, a web support system will be created whereby youth can share their thoughts and feelings with one another and with trained counselors. Through the web site, residents of Southeast Missouri will have access to a wealth of information about substance abuse prevention.
Mission Missouri is a five-year-old faith-based social services organization located in Sikeston. It was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health for its Crossing Freedom from Addiction program that provides free assistance to addicted individuals and their families.
MIMH is a St. Louis-based center for policy, research and training that is part of the School of Medicine of the University of Missouri-Columbia. It has a history of collaborating with the faith community on adolescent substance abuse prevention efforts.
Mission Missouri and MIMH are in the process of forming a Steering Committee made up of residents from throughout the nine-county area. This committee will oversee implementation of the program. A Junior Advisory Council will also be convened to help craft anti-use messages that will appeal to adolescents.
Pfefferkorn said volunteers for the Steering Committee are needed and the public is invited to attend an informational meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 27 at Mission Missouri located at 218 Dixie St.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Pfefferkorn at (573) 472-4141.