The Jefferson City Council for Drug Free Youth reviewed its 2017 campaigns Thursday as it prepared for 2018 during its annual planning meeting.
CDFY Director Joy Sweeney said the group's action plan, developed in 2014, settled on three goals. The first was to increase capacity to bring community stakeholders into the effort.
The second was to reduce youth alcohol use. Sweeney said alcohol remains the No. 1 drug of choice for children ages 12-17.
The third was to reduce youth marijuana use.
"With the trend societally and nationally, it is an uphill battle to fight that one," Sweeney said.
However, data from 2014-16 showed another battle is looming, she added.
"The only thing that took a turn for the worse was middle school use of prescription drugs," Sweeney said. "It increased by 10 percent right here in Jefferson City."
Because the council has brought more stakeholders to the table, it has been able to add a fourth goal: to work on the opioid crisis.
The nonprofit has applied for two grants aimed at combating opioid use and plans to complete an application for a third by the end of the month, Sweeney said. It's also working with St. Mary's Hospital and Capital Region Medical Center, the Missouri Pharmacy Association, the Cole County Health Department, the state Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and other organizations to help with the effort.
"The key is innovative, collaborative work between law enforcement and hospitals and mental health professionals, and everybody working together in our community," she said, "and having access to real-time information about what's happening in emergency rooms at the hospital."
CDFY hopes to use an opioid coalition resource hub that will provide the information it needs.
Preliminary information from the organization's annual report shows 97.7 percent of students participating in 2017 CDFY programs (approximately 11,000) committed to living drug-free. Student tobacco use decreased by 1.5 percent. Alcohol use decreased by 1 percent.
The organization recognized 53 students for being drug-free. It held 23 community events and distributed more than 17,500 pieces of literature, 45 percent of which went directly to students.
A'tiq Muhammad, a ninth-grader, suggested the council focus on students his age.
"I think we should reach more toward ninth-graders because that's when most people start using drugs," he said. "They are introduced to them in middle school. I know people who do that at my school."
A'tiq's father, Mumin Muhammad, said without parents and people like those in the council going into communities and talking to children, telling them the adults have gone through everything the children are experiencing, "the kids don't stand a chance."
"We're not foreign to any of these issues they're going through," he said. "We just have to know it and communicate it to them."
Boy Scouts of America offers distractions from drugs and alcohol for any youth, said Kris Andrae, district executive of the Great Rivers Council.
Venturing camps offer opportunities for boys and girls to participate in activities throughout the United States.
"I've hiked over 120 miles in New Mexico twice," Andrae said. "I can tell you that after you've done that, nothing else feels that hard."
Another challenge the organization will face this year is a wide push to legalize marijuana in the state.
The state has authorized 29 petitions to amend the Missouri Constitution for marijuana legalization, Sweeney said. Some have reportedly already reached the necessary number of signatures to place the issue on the 2018 ballot.
In Missouri, proponents of an issue must collect 8 percent of the latest gubernatorial vote for constitutional amendments. It must collect 5 percent of the gubernatorial vote to initiate a statute.
Sweeney said the latest grant CDFY is applying for could help increase its capacity to prevent drug use, particularly opioids.
"The minute you plug one hole over here another hole springs open over here," Sweeney said. "We want to have a comprehensive solution for our community."