Addressing Austin’s drug problem

Published 5:56 am Sunday, July 10, 2016

With a newly awarded five-year grant, the Parenting Resource Center in Austin is hoping to make a long-term change for Austin’s drug issue.

The center will hire a coordinator to work at Austin High School using funds from a Minnesota Department of Human Services, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division grant. The main goal will be to build and maintain collaborative efforts with the school, Austin Area Drug Task force, coalition members and community stakeholders. The coordinator will also work with students in grades 7-12 to help bring awareness to alcohol and drug use within the schools and provide assessment, capacity building, strategic planning, program and strategy implementation and evaluation.

“We live in a world that puts a significant amount of pressure on children all the time,” said Becky Rasmussen, executive director of the Parenting Resource Center. “We want to bring light to that and show there are students not using [substances]. People can function without having that in their lives.”

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The grant project will officially begin July 1 and run until June of 2021. The project’s first task will be to hire the coordinator.

“Ultimately, we hope it achieves students not using [substances],” Rasmussen said.

The Parenting Resource Center wrote the grant for the Austin Area Drug Task Force, with support from the AHS REACH staff.

The center will be the fiscal agent for the five-year project.

“It really is a community effort,” Rasmussen said.

Although Austin’s drug issue is nothing new, the substances being abused have fluctuated over the years. The drug task force began in 2004 when meth was being widely produced in the community. The group proposed an ordinance, which was passed, to stop selling Sudafed over the counter and regulate the amount that could be purchased. According to Bonnie Rietz, coordinator of the Austin Area Drug Task Force, alcohol, prescription drugs and heroin are three of the deadliest drugs and most commonly abused substances in Austin. The youth and their usage is a huge concern to Rietz as well.

“It can change a young person’s life so drastically,” she said.

The grant project will primarily focus on creating, promoting and sustaining effective approaches to reducing alcohol and drug use, specifically opioid and prescription drugs. The project will also include a collaboration of local coalition sectors. Areas include businesses, schools, law enforcement and various organizations of representation and leadership.

“People working together can make a big difference in their community and we are so pleased to have such strong support for a healthy, safe community,” Rietz said in a press release.