SWEETWATER COUNTY– The Sweetwater County Commissioners unanimously approved Southwest Counseling Service’s Sweetwater County Prevention Work Plan for 2019-2020 at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting.
In August 2018, the commissioners approved a grant in the amount of $486,458 from the Wyoming Department of Health, Public Health Division, which is expires June 30, 2020.
The purpose of the funding is to provide community-based prevention services in Sweetwater County. Southwest Counseling Service was chosen to receive the funding to build the prevention plan. This funding led to the creation of the Prevention Coalition. Southwest Counseling hired two full-time prevention specialists, Danielle Deters and Megan Weston, to head the coalition and create the work plan.
Laura Schmidt-Pizzato, Recovery Services Manager at Southwest Counseling Services, said out of all the plans in the state, the Sweetwater County Prevention Work Plan received the fewest revisions and is considered the best in the state.
However, as the plan leads the state in a positive way, the actual statistics show Sweetwater County leads the state in many of the issues the plan tackles, such as underage and binge drinking, and suicide.
“We are a leader in the wrong way for these prevention measures,” Schmidt-Pizzato said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Deters and Weston ran through the main points of the plan which covers prevention of underage drinking, binge drinking, tobacco, opioid and other drugs, and suicide.
According to Weston, the county does a Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA) once every two years in which middle school and high school students participate in a survey. The 2018 PNA results found that:
- 34.8 percent of high school students in Sweetwater County reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days
- 15.24 percent of those students obtained alcohol from parents
- 22.29 percent of those students obtained alcohol from another adult 21 years of age or older
- Over 54 percent of students reported they have not had discussions with their parents about drug and alcohol use
Weston noted that though the number of students who reported drinking in the past 30 days has decreased from past PNA results, it is still a high number. Weston and Deters also added that Sweetwater County ranks second highest in the state for underage drinking, following Fremont County.
To combat underage drinking, Weston said they are implementing the “Parents Who Host, Lose the Most” campaign, which educates parents, community members, school employees, and youth about the dangers and consequences of providing alcohol to teens and kids.
Southwest Counseling has also purchased 15 ID scanners, five of which will be housed at the Rock Springs Police Department, five at the Green River Police Department, and five at the Sweetwater County Events Complex. The community can check these scanners out, free of charge, as well as with a checklist to ensure they host safe events.
According to Deters, 55 percent of all Sweetwater County arrests were due to DUIs in 2018. Additionally, there were 13 alcohol related crashes in 2018 in the county.
She added that Sweetwater County has the highest rate of alcohol related arrests in Wyoming.
Deters said to prevent binge drinking and promote safe drinking, they are starting a Safe Ride Voucher Program, which will be provided by local taxi and Uber drivers. These rides will be free for the person utilizing the voucher program.
Additionally, TIPS training provided to restaurant and bar owners will be promoted in an effort to reduce binge and underage drinking.
A comprehensive community events checklist will be developed to create recommendations for people who are obtaining a liquor license to follow to ensure they are promoting safe drinking at their events.
The coalition will also be working with local alcohol industry leaders to distribute standardized drink cups for community events. The cups will be standard sized, clear, and disposable. The coalition hopes standardized cups will promote safe drinking.
According to Weston, chewing tobacco and smoking is prominent in Sweetwater County, and vaping is on the rise with local youth.
The PNA results concluded that over 38 percent of high school students reported vaping in the past 30 days in 2018. Only 15.7 percent of high school students reported they believed vaping was harmful and dangerous.
The coalition plans to provide a vaping prevention program in middle schools and high schools to educate youth on the dangers of vaping. The goal is to minimize the number of teens who do vape, and to prevent more from starting.
To combat tobacco use in the community, there will be tobacco cessation groups to educate the community and assists community members in quitting.
Weston said the coalition already amended the City of Rock Springs’ youth tobacco ordinance to include the e-cigarette language.
Using the grant funding, the coalition has also purchased Smoke Free and E-Cigarette Free signs for local businesses to hang up to help prevent tobacco use and to educate community members.
In 2019 so far, there have been seven suspected overdose deaths in Sweetwater County. To prevent opioid abuse, Deters ran through a few preventive measures they are taking:
- Promotion of Deterra drug deactivation bags
- Promotion of medical lock boxes
- Promotion of Sweetwater County medication drop boxes
The deactivation bags can be used to place medication in, which deactivates the drug and can then be disposed of.
The lock boxes allow the community members to safely keep their medications out of the hands of small children, teens, and other individuals. The coalition hopes this will reduce accidental overdoses and theft.
The medication drop boxes are located around the community in hopes of encouraging proper disposal of unused medication. A new drop box location was added at Southwest Counseling Services.
Deters noted that suicide prevention is one of their biggest priorities in the prevention work plan. In 2017, Sweetwater County ranked fourth in the state in suicide rates, while Wyoming ranked third in the nation in suicide rates.
According to Deters, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in Wyoming. Deters added that it is the first leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24.
To prevent suicide, the coalition is providing suicide prevention and mental health training for community members, school officials, and law enforcement. This training aims to teach individuals how to respond to mental health emergencies and help someone who appears to be in emotional distress or who is experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Two police officers and one clinician will also be participating in Crisis Intervention Team training, with the ultimate goal of developing a crisis intervention team in the community.
The coalition is also promoting and distributing free gun locks to local gun shops, police departments, and to the community at large to decrease access to weapons.
Suicide bereavement packets will be given to families who have lost a loved one to suicide. Suicide attempt packets will also be given out to support individuals who have attempted suicide.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing hard times, please know there is help. Contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
Now that the plan has been approved by the county commission, the coalition will begin implementing the work plan.