Jess Garcia, of the Allies for Substance Abuse Prevention of Dodge County, and Beaver Dam Mayor Becky Glewen participate in a roundtable on Thursday. ASAP is looking for input into its future.

JUNEAU — A Dodge County drug abuse prevention group celebrated its one-year anniversary Thursday as it considers its next steps.

The Allies for Substance Abuse Prevention of Dodge County held a roundtable event at the Dodge County Administration Building with local officials and stakeholders to gauge their thoughts on where the coalition should go next.

ASAP started with a grant and is headed by Jess Garcia, a registered nurse and prevention specialist. Dodge and Sauk Counties received a $1.86 million grant that will run through 2021 using federal funds administered by the state to promote safe prescribing practices and track misuse trends.

However, the grant only covers work in prescription drug abuse, and ASAP is looking to apply for funds that would cover a wider range of drug-related work.

“We know that’s not the only problem in Dodge County,” Garcia said.

In the past year, ASAP has conducted studies with older adults and school-age children about prescription drug misuse alongside a county opioid survey. The group works with 12 different stakeholder groups, including schools, law enforcement, religious organization and healthcare professionals in its efforts. Garcia said there’s been a highlight on youth.

“The big thing we found was access,” Garcia said, explaining it is too often easy for someone to crack open a purse or a medicine cabinet to grab a prescription drug. ASAP holds take-back events for people to turn over medication they no longer need or that has expired, along with offering lock boxes and and more to promote drug security.

Garcia said she recognizes people do have pain and do need certain drugs, and the goal is to make sure the prescriptions are not misused.

ASAP falls under the umbrella of the Alliance for Wisconsin Youth, a state program. Annie Short, the director for AWY’s southern region, said the programs helps provide technical support.

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Short said coalitions and local efforts often spring up when there is a crisis caused by substance abuse in a community, such as drunken driving deaths.

“Everyone comes together and says we need to do something, we need to do something, and then they fall apart because it’s hard to stay focused on that project,” she said. “But we know things don’t change overnight.”

She said it’s important to make sure such efforts stick with a plan, going beyond posters and events, with a focus on changing policy.

“Just putting up a poster does not change behavior,” she said.

Garcia said community support is important to making sure the efforts work, including by just being a voice to offer a unique and valuable perspective.

She said, in the future, broader work could include looking at alcohol abuse and opioid addiction. She also said there could be a look at vaping, which is facing a public backlash following illness and deaths linked to using the electronic products. Officials are looking at the connection to black market vaping products.

Garcia said she would like to break the taboo around discussing substance abuse.

“The only way to get anywhere is to talk about it,” she said.

To find out more about how to obtain security items, attend events or be involved, ASAP can be reached at asapofdodgecounty@gmail.com or by calling Garcia at 920-386-4853.

Follow Chris Higgins on Twitter @chris_higgins_ or contact him at 920-356-6751 and chiggins@wiscnews.com.

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