Grant to aid drug fight

Most drug prevention programs focus on the consequences of drug abuse: addiction, health problems, jail time.

Local police and educators want to tell another side of the story by connecting students with positive peer role models and showing examples of people who have made the right choices.

Empower Johnson County, a coalition formed by local leaders, was awarded a five-year, $625,000 Drug-Free Communities grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The organization was one of three in Indiana to get the award. Nearly $86 million in grants were given out nationwide to fund drug abuse prevention and treatment programs.

“Our youth hear about kids who get into trouble for drugs, but how often do they hear about kids doing the right things?” Empower Johnson County Director Michelle McMahon said.

Highlighting the benefits of good decision-making is just as valuable as warning youth of the consequences of making bad choices, she said.

The organization will receive $125,000 a year through 2020. The majority of those funds will go toward programs and awareness efforts.

The group’s two goals are to reduce youth substance abuse and to increase collaboration within the community, said Kathleen Anderson, the executive director of Upstream Prevention, a nonprofit acting as the fiscal host for the grant.

Youth drug use is not a problem unique to Johnson County but a nationwide challenge, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said.

Drug prevention efforts have to begin early, said Cox, who is on the Empower Johnson County board.

“Awareness needs to start in elementary schools,” he said.

Now that funding has been approved, the group is working with law enforcement and local schools, trying to put together a community needs assessment, McMahon said.

That assessment will be data-driven, with information from the Indiana Youth Survey, an annual, anonymous questionnaire taken by students in sixth through 12th grade, about how often students use drugs, when they started and what effect it has on them. Availability of drugs, family conflict and youth perception of drugs are all risk factors.

One area of concern is that, as students age, they perceive marijuana to be less harmful.

Half of seventh grade students in Johnson County said trying marijuana once or twice would have a moderate or great risk of harming them, but only 28 percent of 11th grade students agreed.

Fewer 11th grade students, as compared to seventh graders, think their peers would disapprove of drug use.

Some programs McMahon has in mind include peer-to-peer efforts, allowing teens to hear positive messages from fellow students.

The grant will provide funding for a youth leadership council in Johnson County, which previously existed under a different grant that expired in June, Anderson said. Empower Johnson County will be expanding that effort, Anderson said.

“What youth learn is from other youth and the media,” Anderson said.

While the majority of students don’t abuse drugs, for some, it can seem like everyone around them is, she said.

“We want to encourage positive role models in the lives of youth,” McMahon said.

Another part of the effort is getting information out to the community, such as alerting parents to the types of drugs students are most likely to abuse, McMahon said.

“We are willing to do whatever the community needs to prevent youth substance abuse,” she said.

By the numbers

The Indiana Youth Survey is an anonymous questionnaire which asks students across the state about drug use. Johnson County students were asked about what substances they had used in the last 30 days:


7th grade: 5 percent

8th grade: 5 percent

10th grade: 18 percent

11th grade: 25 percent


7th grade: 2 percent

8th grade: 2 percent

10th grade: 9 percent

11th grade: 9 percent

Electronic vapor products

7th grade: 4 percent

8th grade: 6 percent

10th grade: 18 percent

11th grade: 19 percent


7th grade: 2 percent

8th grade: 4 percent

10th grade: 11 percent

11th grade: 16 percent

Prescription drugs not prescribed for them

7th grade: 2 percent

8th grade: Less than 1 percent

10th grade: 4 percent

11th grade: 5 percent

Source: 2015 Indiana Youth Survey

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2702.