Local health leaders seek ideas for fighting alcohol abuse

FARGO - Over the next year, public health officials here will use a grant of nearly $400,000 to put in place initiatives meant to lower the community's high rates of minors drinking and adults binge drinking.

FARGO – Over the next year, public health officials here will use a grant of nearly $400,000 to put in place initiatives meant to lower the community’s high rates of minors drinking and adults binge drinking.

Cass Fargo Public Health is turning to the community for input on which strategies are most important and most effective. Officials from the agency held two meetings Wednesday to gather public feedback on possible strategies.

About 25 community members met to give input at an afternoon session.

“I think getting an idea of how all the different stakeholders in the community view the problem and the importance of the intervening variables and the strategies is going to help us put together a good plan that is representative of what the community feels that they want and need,” said Robyn Litke Sall, alcohol and tobacco prevention coordinator for Fargo Cass Public Health.

Ron Schneider, addiction counselor for Fargo Public Schools, said he came to help identify plans and see how they’re going to be able to implement it in the timeframe available.

“This is a great idea,” he said. “It’s time to do something like this. It’s time to get a lot of input from the community and see what they think are the directions to go.”

Meeting participants weighed in on a variety of possible strategies – from increasing alcohol taxes and enforcement to reducing its availability in social settings and stores.

Three years ago, the state received a five-year federal grant of $1.94 million per year to build substance abuse prevention infrastructure, but local officials say they didn’t see the money until this spring.

This left Fargo Cass Public Health just 18 months to assess its drinking problem and develop and implement a plan to fight underage and adult binge drinking, both of which are priorities in North Dakota. They have until September 2015 to do so with the $389,503 awarded for Cass County, which will be allocated to community partners.

Through capacity surveys, the public health agency assessed the community for its readiness to support prevention programs in nine areas. On a scale of one through nine, the lowest – a score of 2.6 – was awarded for leadership and community climate. The highest score the community received was a 5.4 for its existing efforts.

This means the county is perceived to have efforts in place, but it struggles to bring forward new initiatives and strengthen those efforts in place, Litke Sall said.

Sixty-seven percent of North Dakota high school students have used alcohol and 65 percent of 12-17 year olds don’t believe getting drunk one or two times a week poses a great risk.

Fargo-Moorhead ranks No. 1 in binge drinking in the nation for binge alcohol use in the past month (out of 187 metro areas).

Litke Sall said these problems go back to community norms.

“It’s just something that is so normal in our community and expected and accepte,” Litke Sall said. “It also is around us everywhere we go. It’s part of our environment and I think it’s just the overall attitude of the community that accepts it and perpetuates it.”

Breaking this cycle is difficult – and it takes time.

She hopes to implement strategies that will last beyond the timeline of the funding.