About 140 people will descend on Three Rivers Convention Center on April 27 to learn how to better handle substance abuse and mental health issues in their communities.
The Eastern Washington Sector Summit is the first regional conference for coalitions developed by state and federal agencies aimed at helping youth, local organizers said.
State officials said they hope it will lead to stronger efforts to keep alcohol and drugs away from kids, whether that’s at school, home or anywhere else in their communities.
“It can’t just be the health department or the school district,” said Kelly Larsen, coordinator for the Pasco Discover Coalition.
The groups, which are based on the state-supported Community Prevention & Wellness Initiative or federal Drug Free Communities project, are part of an effort to bring broad solutions to issues with drugs and alcohol, as well as depression and suicide facing youth, said Jennifer Dorset, coordinator for the Prosser Community Involvement Action coalition.
The state started supporting the coalitions more than four years ago, forming them in areas where a youth health survey indicated underage teen drinking was particularly high.
The effort has gone on to include mental health issues as well as marijuana use, which was legalized by state voters two years ago.
“Now that it’s normalized it’s going to be more like alcohol,” Dorset said.
The coalitions have taken different angles to address those issues, such as working with schools on curriculum promoting good decision making and policies that target drugs and alcohol trends and classes for parents to promote a healthy home environment.
They even advise retailers were to place merchandise such as beer to limit the ability of youth to shoplift it.
The Prosser coalition wrote a grant to the state to help similar groups elsewhere in Washington and were provided $4,000 to put on the training along with the Pasco group.
It will involve classes on improving a coalition’s ability to take on projects, substance abuse prevention and how coalition members can better access resources.
“The outcome we’re looking for is that it increases capacity for action,” said Deb Schnellman with the division of behavioral health and recovery in the state Department of Social and Health Services.