Coalition focuses on preventing substance abuse among county’s youth


The Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition — which works to prevent substance use among young people — reports to the Douglas County Mental Health Initiative, a partnership of about 30 agencies working to identify gaps in the county’s mental health resources and create programs to address those needs.

Formed in 2016, the coalition primarily focuses on underage drinking and marijuana use among people ages 12 to 20, and prescription drug misuse and abuse among people ages 12 to 25. Multiple agencies come together to assess data, determine where problems exist and why. They also implement plans to address those problems.

“The work of the Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Initiative is very important within the context of the mission and goals of the Douglas County Mental Health Initiative,” said Anne Mosbach, the Mental Health Initiative’s coordinator. “Their focus on prevention and early intervention is key to supporting our youth as they navigate the challenges of peer pressure, substance use in home or schools and understanding the larger impact youth substance abuse has on the individual, the family and the community.”

Many of the same agencies in the Mental Health Initiative, which represent varied sectors of the community from government to law enforcement and healthcare, also serve on the coalition. They include South Metro Fire Rescue, the Douglas County School District, Douglas County Libraries, Littleton Adventist Hospital, Tri-County Health Department — the coalition’s current fiscal agent and lead — and other agencies with a stake in youth health and wellness.

But the coalition also has more representation from parents and youth.

Zac Hess, DCSD’s director of health, wellness and prevention, says the district’s partnership with the coalition is an integral part of supporting students’ behavioral health. 

“We all have the same incredibly important goal — healthy, happy and safe youth and families,” Hess said.

Participation with the coalition has allowed DCSD to establish other “crucial relationships” with members, he said. “By engaging with multiple stakeholders in our community, we are making real-world positive impacts for youth and families.”  

In general, coalitions, such as this one, Hess said, have proven to be one of the best strategies to prevent youth substance use and support their mental health.

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A key component of the coalition, said coalition coordinator Steve Martinez, is the Douglas County Youth Leadership Board, which comprises high school students from across the school district who work in schools to raise awareness and education on substance use. Students ages 13 to 18 can apply to be on the leadership board through a form available on the coalition’s website.

The coalition’s strong relationships with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, DCSD and other agencies have helped create a strategic plan and identified evidence-based strategies it began implementing last December, said Martinez, a substance abuse prevention coordinator with Tri-County Health. The coalition uses the Strategic Prevention Framework public health model, a five-step planning process for prevention work from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Although we’ve seen short-term, positive outcomes,” Martinez said of the group’s work, “we won’t see the full impact for a few years.”

Information for parents, teens and research on substance use is available on the coalition’s website, For young people, find tips on how to say no, how to help a friend and facts on substance and Colorado law. For parents, find tips for how to talk to children about substances, warning signs and research.

Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, Douglas County Mental Health Initiative, Time to Talk, mental health, substance abuse, addiction, Jessica Gibbs


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