Grant gives prevention effort a boost

NAUGATUCK — Preventing youth from using and abusing drugs is something Naugatuck Youth Services Executive Director Kristin Mabrouk is passionate about, and the nonprofit organization recently received a financial boost to fuel that passion.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy awarded Step Up Naugy, the borough’s official prevention coalition run by youth services, a Drug-Free Communities grant. The grant is up to $125,000 a year for five years with the possibility of extending the grant for another five years.

The Drug-Free Communities grants are intended to provide local community prevention coalitions funding to prevent youth substance use, including prescription drugs, marijuana, tobacco and alcohol.

“Now that we have the funding and the resources, we’re really able to chase after our initiatives,” said Nicole Wiley, prevention coordinator for Step Up Naugy.

Mabrouk said Step Up Naugy will use the first year of funding primarily for training and working to get the coalition’s message out to the community through workshops, forums and public service announcements. Two members of the coalition will attend a three-week national training seminar hosted by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America and then do community-level training in Naugatuck, she said.

The grant will also pay to make the prevention coordinator position, which is part time now, full time, Mabrouk said. Some funds are earmarked for the Naugatuck Police Department to pay for overtime for enforcement activities above and beyond what the department currently does, she added.

“Our officers are excited to be recognized as stakeholders in this latest program. It is programs such as this that will allow us to strengthen our positive interactions with the community and work toward our common goals,” said Sgt. Colin McAllister, president of the Naugatuck police union.

Mabrouk said the coalition’s efforts will focus on marijuana and alcoholic use among youth.

In a survey administered to Naugatuck youth in May 2014, 28 percent of youth who responded reported using alcohol at least once in the 30 days before the survey, and 18 percent reported using marijuana one or more times in the same time frame, according to Mabrouk.

Between 2013 and 2016, there were 109 marijuana-related arrests in Naugatuck of teens between the ages of 13 and 18, according to Mabrouk. Over that same time, she continued, there were 45 driving under the influence arrests of people ages 16 to 20.

The state and country is currently in the grasp of what officials have described as an “opioid crisis” involving the abuse of heroin and other opioids, such as prescription pain medication.

Mabrouk said she is constantly asked how the opioid issue is affecting the youth. She said the youth are mostly using marijuana and alcoholic, while it’s adults that get involved with “harder” drugs. However, she said, if the community can reach the youth now it can stem the tide of drug abuse in adults later.

“Our adults used to be kids, they used to be our young people,” Mabrouk said. “So, if we want to move the needle this is one way that we can do it, by educating and supporting our young people now so when they’re adults they have the tools they need to cope with whatever’s going on in their lives.”

For more information on Step Up Naugy, email sun@naugatuckyouthservices.org.