The South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition has laid out a two-year plan to begin tackling substance abuse in the area after being awarded more than half a million dollars in federal funds over the next five years.
The money will be needed if the group hopes to fight what officials are calling a large-scale drug problem for such a small town.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve definitely noticed a sense of acceptance,” Coalition Coordinator Melody Easton said of the party-like atmosphere in South Lake Tahoe.
In September, the Coalition received a Federal Drug Free Communities grant through Tahoe Youth & Family Services. It was awarded $125,000 per year for the next five years to prevent and reduce both youth and adult drug use by changing the culture in the community.
On Monday, a group of about 20 volunteers and staff met to discuss the coalition’s strategies and early progress.
Items of focus included the addition of drug take-back bins around South Lake Tahoe — where people can drop off their unwanted drugs, such as prescriptions — and the development of an alcohol and drug education program for some students who are suspended from school.
Hector Reyes, chair of the coalition’s school policy workgroup, said the idea for the suspension program is not only to educate students on substance use, but also to reach out to them and identify the problem.
“We can’t fix them all,” he said. “But if we fix some, the Coalition will have done its job.”
The hope is also to incorporate drug education and prevention programs into the school curriculum, said Larry Lambdin, chair of the prevention resource workgroup. However, that may not happen for some time, as such changes need to be approved through various avenues in the education system.
“This is a long-term project,” he said.
Strategies discussed at the Monday meeting coincide with the coalition’s two-year action plan.
In year one, the group’s objectives are to reduce youth alcohol and marijuana use by 25 percent, reduce prescription drug use by 25 percent, increase local awareness, improve membership and strengthen the coalition.
Year two goals mostly consist of building upon the first-year objectives.
The plan highlights marijuana use in particular because officials say it’s the most widely used drug in town, aside from alcohol.
According to a press release citing the 2011-12 California Healthy Kids Survey, the percentage of 11th-graders in South Lake Tahoe who reported smoking marijuana almost daily was more than double the statewide average.
Meanwhile, 28 percent of 11th-graders believe that there is great harm in smoking marijuana once or twice a week, compared to the 45 percent who believe the same about alcohol.