2016-01-14 / Around Town

Changes Ahead for Substance Abuse Task Force

By Olga Enger

A group dedicated to tackling youth substance abuse in Newport is preparing for a transformation as they head into 2016.

“We have two major changes happening right now,” explained Ben Ellcome, Newport Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force coordinator. “David Roderick, who is the chair of our board of directors, is retiring. We have also been going through a rebranding exercise and will be getting a new website and marketing material.”

The Task Force was formed in 1987 through a resolution passed by the Newport City Council and is funded through the federal Substance Abuse Prevention Program. Last year, the group was awarded $750,000 through the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, to be allocated in yearly installments over the course of five years. The funding supports two full-time employees and basic operations.

“That’s what keeps our lights on,” Ellcome explained. “We have other, smaller grants that we apply to support initiatives such as the website and marketing.”

Roderick, who served as mayor of Newport and four terms on City Council from 1987 to 1996, said he stepped down because of health issues and to be fair to his other commitments.

“I’m going to be 75 in September. I’ve never learned to say no. It’s about time I did,” Roderick laughed. The former chair, who has been involved with the Task Force for over 12 years, has an impressive record of community involvement, including roles with the Canvassing Authority, Juvenile Hearing Board, Henderson Home Board of Commissioners, Partnership for Families, and Jaycees International Senate.

“The Task Force supports existing programs out there that prevent substance abuse” Roderick explained. “It was never intended to run its own programs.”

“We look for groups that already have a leadership team in them. We do a lot of work with the Boys and Girls Club,” Ellcome elaborated.

Roderick said over the 12 years he has been involved in the Task Force, he has seen a concerning uptick in the use of illegal prescription pills in the community.

Although the most common substance Newport students use is alcohol, 30 percent of females in grade 11 reported taking illegal prescription pills, according to a 2013 survey prepared by John Mattson Consulting.

Around 15 percent of students in seventh grade and 50 percent of students in grade 12 reported they had at least one alcoholic drink within the last 30 days. Of those who drank, most indicated they had their first drink around 14 years old. Marijuana was a close second to alcohol consumption.

Roderick said the decriminalization of marijuana is sending “mixed messages” to local youth. “It’s a negative, there is no question about that,” he said.

Looking into the future, Niko Merritt of Newport will take the helm of the Task Force board of directors.

"David Roderick leaves the Task Force a better organization and on a stronger footing for those who follow him," said Merritt. It has been a pleasure working with him and wish him well on his future endeavors. As we begin the New Year, we welcome new board members and opportunities to collaborate with other organizations so that we are able to better serve our community. I look forward to the Task Force being more visible, presenting new ideas, participating in community events and raising awareness on the topic of substance abuse prevention."

Another big change in line for the Task Force is a branding makeover. The group has contracted Worldways Social Media of Newport to engage in website and campaign development, which is expected to launch in January.

“For our name, we want to reflect a more modern approach, something more collaborative than 'Task Force.' It looks like it will be the Newport Prevention Coalition,” said Ellcome. The website is expected to launch in January, which will include a new logo.

“We adapt a bigger picture of substance abuse prevention,” said Ellcome. “It’s a healthy communities model. If community conditions improve, then all issues resolve such as obesity, violence and substance abuse.”

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