The Putnam Wellness Coalition working together for a drug-free community

March 16, 2018

With a name like “Putnam Wellness Coalition,” there is a common misconception that the coalition focuses on healthy lifestyles in general.

Although the roots of the coalition are that of a group that sought to address all issues concerning health and wellbeing, the coalition has redefined itself over the years, now primarily focusing on the area where there is the greatest need — substance use and abuse, especially among youths.

The Putnam Wellness Coalition has recognized the overwhelming substance abuse issues in Putnam County and has been instrumental in determining approaches that will decrease risk factors and increase protective factors. The coalition primarily targets youth with regard to marijuana, underage drinking and prescription drug abuse, but works with all ages and all areas of focus to ensure the greatest impact.

Our vision for the Putnam Wellness Coalition is to have empowered communities that promote healthy living, the elimination of substance abuse, and are great places to live, work, play, go to school and raise a family. The mission of the Coalition is to engage communities within Putnam County in ongoing efforts to eliminate substance abuse by creating and maintaining a safe and healthy environment that informs, advocates, and supports youth and adults.

The Putnam Wellness Coalition is made up of a group of concerned citizens collaborating to create environmental change within the community in order to truly make Putnam County a better place to live, work, play, go to school, and raise a family by focusing on the elimination of substance abuse. The Putnam Wellness Coalition grew out of Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) state grant funding and in 2014 secured federal Drug Free Community (DFC) Grant funds with the express purpose of investing in environmental strategies within the community such as enacting policy changes, changing the physical design within the community, and changing the incentives to reduce, eliminate, and/or delay first youth substance use.

Our three main focuses are underage drinking, marijuana and prescription pills; however, we also focus on tobacco, heroin and other substances, along with youth leadership. We work toward the elimination of substance abuse in Putnam County by identifying key leaders in the community and providing a knowledge base in which we promote substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery. To this end, we support primary prevention programming in Putnam County Schools and within the community, sponsor school-based leadership chapters, provide technical assistance and facilitate trainings on drug trends and concerns for students, teachers, parents, and professionals, host multiple outreach events, and partner with numerous community organizations, state, county and city organizations to reach our shared goals.

Some of the many highlights are:

• In July 2015, we were the first county in the state to have a countywide Social Host Ordinance that made it illegal for adults to knowingly provide a space for underage individuals to drink alcohol and/or use other illegal drugs.

• PWC provided three permanent drug drop boxes for the Hurricane Police, Winfield Police and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. We are working on getting another one for the other side of the river.

• Twice a year over the past several years, we have assisted the DEA with biannual prescription drug take-back days.

Over the past year or so, we have helped to take in over 500 pounds of unused/unwanted prescription pills that could have gotten in to the wrong hands.

• Provided stipends and technical support to Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapters in all of our public secondary schools within the county and held countywide video PSA and billboard contests for Putnam County youth.

• The PWC works closely with all PCS schools and SADD Clubs and provide evidence-based programs and best practices.

• Over 20 billboards with prevention messaging to help change the culture/environment, along with several television PSAs, radio PSA and positive media to draw positive attention to Putnam County.

• Held multiple town hall meetings, and conducted surveys to help gain information and get the word out to the general public.

• We work with law enforcement to help publicize the finding of the Alcohol Compliance Checks by holding yearly media events and after each check, we reward merchants with certificates if in compliance and ask those that are not in compliance if they want to be trained in Training Intervention Procedures (TIPs Training).

• Worked with Appalachian HIDTA to develop and distribute hundreds of parent information and drug testing kits and worked with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to hold a news conference and to bring over 1,400 prescription pill disposal pouches to Putnam County.

• Consistent efforts in helping to spread the word about the substance abuse and mental health hot line, 844-HELP-4WV.

• Trained individuals and provided access to the “Give Me A Reason” parent information and drug testing kits for families to help their children have another reason to not use illegal drugs.

• Provided merchant education on tobacco and alcohol and have completed community scans to help identify proper and best practices for stores in the sales and placement of alcohol and tobacco products. We have also completed Project Sticker Shock events where students and adults go into stores and place reminders on alcohol products not to sell or purchase for underage individuals.

• Instructed bar, restaurant, gas station and convenience store employees in Training Intervention Procedure Strategies (TIPs) which teaches how to better look for proper identification and not serve/sell to the underage nor to overserve alcohol.

• PWC is working with others in the state on a plan to work on breaking down the sigma of mental health and substance abuse issues for the residents of Putnam County and West Virginia.

We use research-based prevention programs and strategies that are cost-effective. Similar to earlier research, recent research shows that for each dollar invested in prevention, a savings of up to $10 in treatment for alcohol or other substance abuse can be seen. (Aos et al. 2001; Hawkins et al. 1999; Pentz 1998; Spoth et al. 2002a; Jones et al. 2008; Foster et al. 2007; Miller and Hendrie 2009.) That does not even include the cost to law enforcement and other environmental, medical and/or health related issues.

We have many strong partners that include the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department and other local law enforcement agencies, Putnam County Schools, Department of Health and Human Resources, the Kanawha-Charleston and Putnam health departments, Prestera Center, local and state media, nonprofit organizations, local businesses, churches and, of course, youths and parents and more.

The PWC has over 300 friends and members that get involve, stay informed and help to make a positive difference in our county.

If anyone would like to get involved, attend a meeting or find out more information, they can contact Bill O’Dell, the project director, at billodell@regionalfrn.org or by calling 304-553-1186.

We meet the second Friday of each month at 10:30 a.m. at the EMS Building in Winfield behind the Putnam County Schools Transportation Building. Everyone is welcome.

Bill O’Dell is the project director of the Drug Free Communities Grant for the Putnam Wellness Coalition. He can be reached at 304-553-1186 or billodell@regionalfrn.org.