Community leaders from Franklin County and the North Quabbin region took part in the Communities That Care Coalition's bi-annual meeting on Friday.
With a focus on youth substance abuse prevention, it is no surprise that the coalition told CBS 3 that schools are the most important and effective way to reach their target audience.
"It's easier to prevent a crime than to prosecute one," said Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, who was one of the dozens on hand for the meeting.
Organizers said they are focused on children across the region, from elementary school age on up.
"We can look at middle school kids and do evidence-based prevention education," said Kat Allen, co-chair of the coalition. "[We can] do things that build skills, like social skills, coping with anger, coping with anxiety. Things that will help kids be less likely to use substances."
While the use of heroin and the problems that go with it have grabbed headlines lately, the coalition said the news is not all bad when it comes to drugs in their area.
"Certainly we're seeing kids using scarier substances with much more severe consequences, but in general, in Franklin County and the North Quabbin, we've seen substance use rates going down, really steadily and dramatically over the last decade," said Allen.
The coalition points to youth binge drinking rates, which they said have been cut in half over the last decade in the region.
Sullivan said his office has noticed a difference.
"There's been a huge cultural change in Hampshire and Franklin counties because of our prevention coalitions, to really let, particularly youth know, that they're not in the minority if they abstain from alcohol or marijuana," Sullivan stated. "They're really the majority."
The coalition said they have the knowledge to continue to improve those numbers.
"The field of prevention has evolved tremendously over the last few decades," said Allen. "It's no longer about 'just say no' and 'this is your brain on drugs', we know all of the many things that can work from cradle to career and all along the way."
Friday's event was sponsored by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
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