Sometimes getting a message to stick requires a bit of creativity. In a new initiative to be rolled out throughout the current semester, Ann Addington, assistant director of health promotion, and her team decided to do just that in their fight against stimulant use on campus.
According to the survey data collected by Ohio University’s Office of Health Promotion, 13 percent of the student population mixes alcohol with prescription medication, with stimulants being the most misused in this manner. While previous years saw the office focus specifically on over-the-counter stimulant use, this year they hope to expand their efforts against non-prescription stimulant use, such as cocaine, as well.
“The way we look at the issue, we don’t just tell people not to do drugs, it doesn’t work,” Addington said. “Instead we focus on harm reduction, educating our students on prevention and using environmental strategies to get this information out to the campus.”
One such strategy targeting the off-campus population will be the distribution of red Solo Cups inscribed with messages concerning the mixing of drugs and alcohol to neighborhoods categorized as high risk, such as Mill Street, either during this year’s fest week or at the beginning of the fall semester when house parties are particularly prevalent.
While the specific messages to be placed on the cups and other mediums has yet to be decided, Addington said they “want to make it personal,” floating the possibility of including personal messages from those impacted by substance abuse. “[One of our] challenges is selecting the messages we think students will read,” said Addington, “which means holding student focus groups with students who will give us honest feedback.”
Addington does note the potential criticisms that could be leveled at the plan. At face value, the office would be providing Solo Cups to parties. However, with the potential to deter students from making a dangerous choice in the heat of the moment, Addington believes the benefits of the initiative make it more than worth it. “If we give out these cups, then they will be getting into the hands of people who might be thinking about doing some stimulants along with drinking, and deterring that from happening.”
But while some might criticize, others, such as the Prevention Action Alliance (PAA), saw potential in the initiative, selecting OHIO’s proposal alongside proposals from Baldwin Wallace University, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Toledo for funding through the 2019 #Push4Prevention campaign. Funding from an organization like PAA that is focused on promoting and bringing together groups to educate the communities around them about substance abuse is vital to the Office of Health Promotion’s effectiveness in pushing these initiatives forward.
“We’re very grateful that we’ve been awarded two years in a row [by PAA] to do prevention efforts on campus,” Addington said. “Our actual programmatic funding in this area is very low, and we depend a lot on outside sources. We’re always excited to get a new grant.”
“Ohio University showed that their institution takes seriously the prevention of substance misuse and the promotion of mental health wellness and makes it one of their priorities,” said Nathan Kraatz, communications manager for PAA. “This is evident in how they’ve taken the initiative to conduct the Ohio University Healthy Campus Survey and in the empowerment of their faculty to seek out partnerships within the host community of Athens. We know that collaborations and partnerships through coalitions bridge the gap between the campus and the host community.”
In addition to distributing the cups, the office also plans to make use of the funds to spearhead other ways of getting the information to the community at a time when they might need it the most. These initiatives include partnering with local bars to hang bathroom posters, with a focus on cocaine use, and with other parts of OHIO’s administration to distribute phone wallets through on-campus institutions, containing similar messages to those on the cups.
The Office of Health Promotion also plans to expand its demographic knowledge of the student population through acquiring three Kindle tablets containing the assessment software “ScreenU” which they hope to place in other partnering OHIO offices. This software provides the individual with anonymous feedback and data as to an individual’s risk level with a number of substances based on user response, including alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug use.
“It’s always important to me that we are getting the correct messages out, not just what an administrator might think is the right thing to do, say or put out there,” said Addington. “It’s important to remember that our target audience is our students and we need to be putting out messages that resonate with them.”