Published on October 19, 2022


MONTEREY, Calif. — In honor of National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month, Montage Health Foundation and Ohana, Montage Health’s youth mental and behavioral health program, are celebrating their first year of progress since receiving a five-year grant from the White House Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program to prevent and reduce youth substance use.

In September of 2021, Montage Health Foundation and Ohana received the good news that they would be awarded $125,000 per year in grant funding for five years to build a coalition of community partners and address alcohol and drug use among youth in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD). Montage Health Foundation also pursued and received other substance use prevention grants that have allowed Montage Health to augment this important work. One year later, Ohana and Montage Health Foundation have established a coalition of dynamic community partners —and together the group has created, implemented, and begun to evaluate a five-year drug-and-alcohol-prevention strategy to support local youth and their families. This initiative reflects Ohana’s multi-faceted approach to addressing the root causes and contributing factors that influence a young person’s mental and behavioral health.

“We want to see our children thriving in their lives, unencumbered by the weight of drug use. The White House grant gives us a way to further support youth by promoting drug use prevention strategies with adolescents, parents, and our community,” said Krista Reuther, Assistant Director, Community Health and Prevention at Ohana.

Adolescent drug and alcohol use has been rising exponentially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the rate of overdose deaths among U.S. teenagers nearly doubled in 2020, and rose another 20 percent in the first half of 2021 compared with the 10 years before the pandemic. 

The White House DFC program provides grants to community coalitions to strengthen the infrastructure among local partners to create and sustain a reduction in local youth substance use. Further, the program is aimed at mobilizing community leaders to identify and respond to the drug problems unique to their community and change local community environmental conditions tied to substance use. More than 700 community coalitions across the country receive funding to strengthen collaboration among local partners and create an infrastructure that reduces youth substance use.

The mission and purpose of the DFC program is not only to halt substance use among youth, but also to address the underlying issues that cause them to reach for drugs and alcohol in the first place. Therefore, a diverse group of coalition partners is needed to address this challenge. The Ohana-led coalition currently consists of partners from 12 local sectors: healthcare, local government, law enforcement, civic organizations, schools, youth-serving organizations, substance-use organizations, the business community, media, religious organizations, parents, and youth.

“Through monthly meetings,” said Deanna Rossi, Institutional Philanthropy Officer, Montage Health Foundation, “our coalition of stakeholders has collaborated to identify long- and short-term prevention strategies to empower youth to reduce the impact of drugs and alcohol in our community.”

Current member organizations include: Montage Health Foundation, Ohana, Monterey County Prescribe Safe Initiative (Prescribe Safe), Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, County of Monterey Behavioral Health, Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, Valley Health Associates, Doctors on Duty, Sun Street Centers, The Bridge Restoration Monterey, CSU Monterey Bay, Monterey County District Attorney’s office, Monterey Police Department, United Way Monterey County, and Rock Star Dance Studio. Each organization plays a vital role in staging an effective intervention on substance use among youth. 

"We chose to target students within Monterey Peninsula Unified School District first because we already have an established partnership with the district and work closely together," said Dr. Reb Close, coalition member, leader of the Monterey County Prescribe Safe Initiative (Prescribe Safe), and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula Emergency Medicine doctor. "But, as we develop our best practices we hope to replicate successes in other districts to address the needs of our broader community." 

In its first year since receiving White House grant funding, the coalition has:

  • Organized community partners to formally establish a coalition, and began monthly meetings to work towards shared goals
  • Built a five-year substance use prevention strategy to support local youth and families
  • Developed new school policies in partnership with MPUSD
  • Hired a dedicated program coordinator
  • Launched school clubs at four local high schools to educate youth about the risks of drug misuse and to give a voice to local students
  • Launched a campaign to encourage parents to talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol
  • Partnered with Blue Zones to host a beach clean-up to inspire volunteerism and community involvement

“Over the long term, our vision is that our community’s children will utilize healthier strategies for coping with stress and will gravitate towards more wholesome ways to have fun,” said Reuther. “When our children thrive, our entire community thrives. We are thrilled about the work we have accomplished over the past year to build this coalition and collectively strengthen the health of our community.”