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.