The Coalition's Origin Story

In response to 110 opioid-related hospitalizations and nine overdose deaths (2003-2005), the Select Board of Reading appointed a committee in 2006 to address the town’s substance abuse problem.  Because of the committee’s report, the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse (RCASA) was formed as a collaborative approach to substance abuse prevention based on the SAMHSA Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF). The Data Workgroup formed to gather and analyze data from police, EMS, Youth Risk Behavior Survey and a Coalition Readiness Survey.  Focus groups and interviews with residents, faith leaders and emergency room staff yielded more data supporting the need for substance abuse prevention.

Following the assessment, leaders developed a logo, logic model, strategic plan and defined goals as:

1) Strengthen community collaboration

2) Reduce youth substance abuse.

From 2007-2012, grant funds from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention enabled paid coalition staff to establish an office at Reading Police Department, collect valuable data, train volunteers, engage youth and build capacity. According to stakeholders, staff and youth leaders built the momentum necessary to change policies. School Committee mandated a breathalyzer policy at dances, changed school search/seizure policies, added K-9 drug searches, added school substance use supports/sanctions, implemented new health classes and improved Chemical Health Regulations. The Select Board approved 17 liquor policy changes, Town Meeting passed a by-law prohibiting public marijuana consumption and youth inspired the Board of Health to ban tobacco sales in pharmacies. Police launched the first 24/7 medication drop off in the region and collected 10,000 bottles. Police rolled out a program for residents to text anonymous tips, enacted a Zero Tolerance Policy and initiated juvenile diversion programming.

RCASA influenced healthy social norms and reduced risk behaviors as measured by the Reading Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2005-2013).  Among middle school age youth, lifetime alcohol use and alcohol use before age 13 declined by 10%. Current alcohol use and youth in cars with alcohol-impaired drivers went down three percent. Lifetime cigarette use decreased by eight percent. Marijuana use before age 13 went down six percent. More youth reported ‘having an adult to talk in school about their concerns’, an increase of five percent. Among high school age youth, lifetime alcohol use and current alcohol use declined seven percent. Impaired driving rates declined by three percent.  Current cigarette use went down seven percent and lifetime marijuana use went down six percent. More youth reported ‘having an adult to talk in school about their concerns’, an increase of four percent.

From 2013-2019, RCASA continued with the support of federal funding to implement their strategic plan to reduce substance misuse and expanded efforts to promote mental health by launching the Mental Health First Aid program in Reading. In 2020, RCASA became the Reading Coalition for Prevention & Support. We have a new name but remain committed to the same mission. Learn are about our latest initiatives posted on this website.

Want to learn more about our new name? RCASA is now Reading Coalition!


The name change positions the coalition to better serve Reading and propel it forward

READING, MA (1/2/20)– RCASA, a community coalition under the Town of Reading, within the Police Department that focuses on substance abuse prevention in Reading, announced today the coalition’s official rebrand toReading Coalition for Prevention & Support.

Established in 2006, the coalition started as a community initiative focused on improving community collaboration and reducing substance abuse. Since then, the coalition has built capacity within our community to address this complex issue and implemented a number of prevention initiatives, while funded under the Drug Free Communities grant.

Today, the coalition, now funded under theTown of Readingwithin the**Reading Police Department,**offers programs and services, more suited to the new name. According to Bob LeLacheur, Town Manager, “Reading Coalition for Prevention & Supportcaptures who we are today and what we are working towards not just with respect to substance abuse prevention but also mental health promotion". As the coalition rebrands, all initiatives will continue uninterrupted.

“Rebranding toReading Coalition for Prevention & Supportenables us to connect with a wider audience, continue expanding our programs and services, and ultimately better position us to serve the community” said Erica McNamara, Director of the Reading Coalition.

The Coalition will involve key stakeholders through a monthly Advisory Board gathering. Members have been appointed by the Coalition Director. The Coalition will continue to work closely with town, school, police, local parents and teens as they evolve their prevention efforts.

Dr. John Doherty, Superintendent of Schools shared “The coalition continues to be a valued resource in working with our school district.”

According to David Clark, Deputy Chief of theReading Police Department, “The Coalition serves a key role within our department. We are one of the few police departments with an embedded coalition and this day-to-day collaboration on substance abuse and mental health is critical to our work.”

About Reading Coalition

TheReading Coalition for Prevention & Supportis located at theReading Police Departmentwith a mission “to strategically address our substance abuse problem that youth in Reading, Massachusetts abuse alcohol, prescription drugs, nicotine, and other illegal drugs at unacceptably high rates that emerge early in adolescence, happen frequently, and indicate heavy use. To realize our mission, we will promote a healthy community environment using the strategic prevention framework to ensure everyone who lives, works, or goes to school in Reading can enjoy an optimum quality of life.” For more info about the Reading Coalition, its services and how to get involved,