Coalition receives grant to combat teen drug use, drinking

In 2009, 36 percent of seniors at Lawrence high schools reported drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in a row within two weeks before taking a state survey.

And 49 percent reported using marijuana at least once in their lifetime. Both numbers were above the state average, and they alarmed members of the New Tradition Coalition, which aims to curb substance abuse among Lawrence youth.

“We by far are the worst in the state when it comes to marijuana use, and we are also at an elevated risk for underage drinking and binge drinking,” said Jen Brinkerhoff, coalition member and director of prevention for DCCCA, an agency providing education, prevention and treatment services for residents and families suffering from alcohol addiction.

She said being a university town is a likely factor, but the coalition learned Tuesday night it will be receiving help in the form of a federal grant to combat these issues. Gil Kerlikowske, the White House drug czar, announced Lawrence as a beneficiary of the Drug Free Communities Support Program.

Brinkerhoff said the grant will provide $110,000 the first year and $125,000 annually years two through five. She said the coalition could receive a lesser amount of grant funds for an additional five years.

The money will be used in several ways including provide part-time funding for prevention specialists at Lawrence’s high schools after school district funds were cut due to the state’s budget crisis. The coalition also aims to provide marketing campaigns aimed at parents who host parties with underage drinking.

“One of the things we have as one of our goals is to educate parents and really, really bring to their attention that when you host, you can be fined, and it’s a big issue,” said Nancy Renfro, a co-chairwoman of the coalition.

Grant funds will allow law enforcement to provide extra patrols around high school prom and graduation weekends.