Aroostook coalition garners national award for drug prevention efforts

2 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — An Aroostook County-based drug prevention coalition has become the only group of its kind in Maine to receive national recognition for its outreach to teens and young adults.

Power of Prevention, based at Caribou’s Cary Medical Center, leads community awareness events and projects aimed at preventing drug and alcohol misuse and abuse. They work with youth ages 12 to 24 through school-based presentations, and have been instrumental in organizing local Drug Take Back Days with law enforcement.

Now the coalition has been recognized with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Community Drug Prevention Award. Representatives from the Maine DEA visited Caribou on Thursday to present the award to Power of Prevention staff.

Kim Parent, Power of Prevention project lead, credited the coalition’s statewide connections with helping to expand knowledge on what they have accomplished in Aroostook County.

After the pandemic began, coalition members had to find creative ways of continuing connections with local youth. At the same time, the Maine DEA wanted to use technology to connect with drug prevention coalitions in rural areas of the state.

That’s how Power of Prevention connected with Eriko Farnsworth, community outreach specialist for the Portland DEA office, who helped the coalition obtain a license to screen the film “If They Had Known.” The documentary follows the tragic death of a teen who died from mixing alcohol with prescription medications.

The collaboration allowed Power of Prevention to show the film to 145 people locally and nationwide via Zoom and in-person events.

“We are very excited to be recognized for the work that we do,” Parent said. “Receiving a national award like this allows us to show that even if you’re from a small community, you can make a difference.”

The award includes funds of $2,000 that Power of Prevention can use for any current or future programs or projects. Some of their current programs include Prime For Life, aimed at educating high school students and Aroostook County Jail inmates, and an online and print guide for local prevention, treatment and recovery resources.

Farnsworth said that Power of Prevention’s positive impact on Aroostook communities was a primary reason why the DEA chose them for recognition.

According to the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, from 2009 to 2019 there was a decrease from 5.7 percent to 2.9 percent in high school youth who reported using prescription drugs not prescribed by a doctor in the past 30 days. That same period saw the number of high school students who reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days fall from 31.8 percent to 21.1 percent.

“[Power of Prevention] is very proactive in their communities. They are energetic and passionate and have amazing support from people in Aroostook County,” Farnsworth said, during the award presentation at the Caribou Wellness & Recreation Center. “That support makes a huge difference for the youth in Aroostook.”

The Community Drug Prevention Award is one of three awards that the DEA presents annually as part of Red Ribbon Week in October. Two other awards honor community coalitions in the areas of law enforcement and diversion control. Due to COVID restrictions, DEA staff originally honored award recipients via Zoom and are now traveling across the country to meet the recipients.

Michael Wardrop, resident agent in charge for Portland’s DEA office, presented Power of Prevention with their awards plaque. He praised the coalition for actively collaborating with community partners, including schools, businesses and law enforcement.

He recalled learning about the local impact of Aroostook’s Drug Take Back Days, held every April and October, after connecting with Parent and her co-workers.

“I kept hearing Kim’s name come up in conversations [with statewide colleagues] after getting involved with Drug Take Back,” Wardrop said. “I learned that she and Chief Gahagan [of Caribou Police Department] were already leading the charge.”

The awards ceremony also featured Trisha House of Senator Susan Collins’ Caribou office, who read remarks from the senator.

“‘Your collaborations with community partners demonstrate your commitment to raising awareness [of drug prevention] among Aroostook County youth,'” House said, when reading Collins’ address.