Norwich revamping anti-drug campaign to save money, reach youth

Norwich — Halfway through a four-year grant that targets drug and alcohol use, the city is revamping its marketing strategy to save money and better reach young people who could fall into addiction.

Norwich Youth and Family Services won the $552,000 Partnership for Success grant in September 2016 by pledging to reduce drinking among those under age 21 and opioid use among those under 24.

With the grant, awarded by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the agency launched Norwich Unhooked, a campaign that uses posters, a website, events and social media to dissuade prescription and other drug misuse among youth. Its messages are informative rather than ominous.

Upon learning youth were struggling with losing their parents to overdoses, Youth and Family Services funded trauma-related professional development for almost 50 school and city staff members.

In June the agency gave Norwich police funding for up to 20 “party patrol” shifts targeting underage drinking and drug use.

Now, with the grant funding scheduled to end in fall 2020, the agency has asked Partnership for Success Peer Advocate Tiana Powell to take over social media duties once handled by D2 Media Solutions, a Day Publishing Co. department that specializes in marketing services for outside businesses.

To aid her efforts, the city sent Powell to the Mid-Year Training Institute in Orlando, Fla., a Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America conference during which almost 2,000 prevention and treatment specialists shared best practices last month.

Powell said she went to sessions on underage drinking prevention, social media and marijuana legalization’s impact on driving.

She found the social media sessions particularly helpful because they outlined the types of posts that get young people’s attention. To date, many of the posts on Norwich Unhooked’s Facebook and Instagram pages have been aimed at parents rather than youth.

“I took so many notes, it’s unbelievable,” Powell said.

She said Michele Devine of the Southeastern Regional Action Council and Margaret Lancaster of the New London Community and Campus Coalition also were at the Mid-Year Training Institute, although they attended different sessions.

“We wanted to get the most out it and not all go to same things,” Powell said.

“I think it's good to see what other people around the world are doing, to see what’s working, what’s not,” she said. “I have so many new ideas. I’m excited to put them to work here in Norwich.”

Powell said she plans to attend two more conferences — one at the end of this month and the other in November — for the same reason.

Norwich saw 32 fatal overdoses in 2017, giving it the second-highest overdose death rate in the state among towns with 10,000 or more people. New London, with 14 overdose deaths, had the next highest total in southeastern Connecticut.

Norwich last year also saw its first death by the opioid carfentanil, a large-animal tranquilizer that’s up to 5,000 times stronger than heroin.

Youth and Family Services applied for the Partnership for Success grant in part because, in a 2015 survey, more Norwich students reported misusing prescription drugs in the past 30 days than alcohol or marijuana — a first for the city.

In the most recent survey, published in April, students reported less misuse of all four core substances: alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and prescription medications.


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