County Officials attempt to tackle underage drinking at community meeting in Hinckley

Originally Published in the Pine County Courier May 4, 2017.

Emilee Franklin

County Officials attempt to tackle underage drinking at community meeting in Hinckley

On April 27, the Pine County Chemical Health Coalition hosted a community conversation around underage drinking at Hinckley-Finlayson Schools. A group of around 30 people gathered for the event which included school and county officials, parents and a few teenagers. The event featured free dinner, childcare and keynote speaker Dr. Jeff Linkenbach.

State grants
Between July 2006 and June 2016, two sets of five-year grants were awarded to independent school districts, local nonprofits, local public health departments, or to county attorneys’ offices to reduce underage drinking. Funds came from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In 2016, Minnesota started its third round of funding. Nine new grants funding 10 school districts have been awarded with nearly $9 million, an average of $200,000 per year each, in grants. PineCounty has been awarded one of the grants in the third round of funding for the school communities of East Central and Hinckley-Finlayson, districts which have higher than average underage drinking.

Dr. Jeff Linkenbach, director and chief research scientist at The Montana Institute, holds a doctorate of education and a master’s degree in counseling,and has over 30 years of experience in the field of public health leadership.
Through his experience in the field, Linkenbach has developed a process called the Science of the Positive and the Positive Community Norms framework, which are being utilized by tribal, federal, state and local organizations to achieve positive change and transformation around a plethora of issues including substance abuse.
Linkenbach’s model that strengthens and grows positive community norms is one in which misperceptions in the community are identified, then targeted with messaging of actual, positive, strong community norms. Research has found that changing perceptions equates to a lasting behavior change.

Following that model, the first point of order for the coalition was surveying students and community members to identify the misperceptions in the East Central and Hinckley-Finlayson communities regarding underage drinking. The data from those surveys will become available the end of May.

In looking at the data of the first group of schools from July 2004 to June 2010, they found that the average ninth-grade 30-day alcohol use fell during the grant period:
– In 2004, 35.5 percent used alcohol in the previous 30 days.
– In 2010, 22 percent used alcohol in the previous 30 days.
Reported alcohol use continued to fall when the grants were finished.
– In 2013, the average ninth grade 30-day alcohol use was only 14 percent, far lower than it was before the grant began.

With the grant, and Linkenbach’s framework, Deer River was able to see a 50 percent decrease in teen drinking at the end of their five-year grant period. While these results may not be typical to the other grants, he has found that a 20-40 percent reduction in teen drinking has been.

For the second group of grantees, 2010 to 2016, the percentage of both middle school
and high school students who had ever used alcohol went down significantly, 23 percent for high school students, 50 percent for junior high students.

After a period of time, the schools will be able to switch their focus to include other substances based on data in their own schools. “If it’s going to be good for our kids, it’s going to be good for every one of us here today,” said Stef Youngberg, secondary principal of EastCentral School.


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