A positive experience from Florida, USA. The following article shows how a proactive prevention approach can make a significant difference in a community.
From drug capital to good example
BY ROBERT McCABE
In the past eight years, Miami-Dade youth have reduced drug use by 50 percent. But there is more to the story. The Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey found Miami-Dade to have the lowest rate of youth marijuana use of any Florida county, and the Federal Risk Behaviour Survey reported that Miami youth had the lowest rate of marijuana use of 14 large metropolitan areas.
In addition, the Miami Coalition School Survey showed that alcohol and cocaine use were down by a third, and the use of cigarettes, marijuana, LSD, rohhypnol, heroin, MDMA and amphetamines fell by more than half. Although drug use remains a major problem, our youth and the community have reason to be proud of this significant achievement.
We are a better place to live, work and raise families. What caused this amazing change?
In the 1980s, Miami was seen as the drug capital of the world. Cocaine cowboys roamed our streets as crime, corruption and addiction caused by cocaine and inflamed by crack put us at risk. Drug-related deaths, medical emergencies and demand for drug treatment rose dramatically. We had become the drug badlands. Our community rose up in response to this dire circumstance, and in 1988, with the leadership of Alvah Chapman and Tad Foote, the business community organized and funded the Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug Free Community, which helped unleash a blitzkrieg of anti-drug activity. Miami’s was the nation’s first broadly based community anti-drug coalition and has become the model for more than 900 that exist today. Key to success has been the breadth of involvement New organizations and new methods of prevention sprang up and others intensified their anti-drug efforts. These include Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors) Switchboard of Miami, Informed Families, D-FY-IT, Catholic Charities, Agape, Camillus House, Betterway, Miami-Dade County Programs, Community Crusade Against Drugs, Here’s Help, Spectrum Programs, The Village and Concept House. Thousands of people continue to participate in these efforts that have been sustained and grown. Under coalition leadership, the courts, corrections and all the law-enforcement groups came together for the first time to coordinate activities. One result was federal designation as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area bringing additional resources that reduced drug trafficking through Miami. The county increased crack-house demolition from 54 in 1988 to 376 in 1989. It also passed a law that created “safe no-drug zones” 1,000 feet around schools, and a parent-led effort ensured that the law was enforced. Another first was the creation of a very successful drug court. its success spawned over 100 drug courts in other American communities.
Other accomplishments include the establishment of a countywide Juvenile Assessment Centre to coordinate services. The Miami-Dade School Board placed drug counsellors in the schools and retained them through budget-cutting years. The Faith Committee promoted anti- drug messages. The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the coalition organized a drug-free workplace programme, which now includes 60 percent of the workplace. The media stepped to the plate and in the critical early years, The Miami Herald and community newspapers contributed a full page a week to the coalitions efforts. In the 11 years that data have been kept, the Miami electronic media led the nation nine times in providing public service time for anti-drug messages. More than half of the surveyed youth indicate that they see these messages every month.
Today the coalition has been transformed from a reactive to a proactive organization. Driven by multiple data sources, strategies are developed to address identified needs. The strategies involve many groups that draw on the communities’ drug-related resources. With the broad-based participation and these strategies in place, Miami is well positioned to continue the fight against drug use. We are proud of our community’s accomplishments. The transformation of our city from a dangerous drug-infested area to a model of national leadership in drug prevention is a stunning achievement and testimony to what can be done when we all work together.