Major SUNY grant supports efforts to reduce alcohol and other drug access

Five-year, $625,000 grant supports collaborative efforts locally and across SUNY and CUNY systems

A five-year, $625,000 grant from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) will help Binghamton University prevent and reduce alcohol and drug access for students like this one. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.
A five-year, $625,000 grant from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) will help Binghamton University prevent and reduce alcohol and drug access for students like this one.
A five-year, $625,000 grant from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) will help Binghamton University prevent and reduce alcohol and drug access for students like this one. Photography: Jonathan Cohen.

When Erin Monroe was hired at Binghamton University as the college prevention coordinator (CPC) for Alcohol and Other Drugs in September of 2017, she also stepped into a lead role for the University’s five-year, $625,000 grant from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). Awarded to 20 SUNY and CUNY schools, OASAS grants support efforts to prevent and reduce alcohol and drug access on campus and in surrounding communities, as well as to change attitudes and norms that support college underage drinking and drug use – including prescription drug misuse.

With support from the grant, which is in its first year programmatically, a number of initiatives have been discussed or underway, including establishment of the Binghamton Campus Community Coalition (BCCC), a partnership to reduce underage drinking and substance abuse. The broad-based coalition includes representatives from the Binghamton mayor’s office, Binghamton city police, Broome County Health Department, local business owners as well as offices on campus that deal with students at risk for alcohol and other drug abuse.

BCCC had its first formal meeting in January, and will continue to meet monthly, Monroe said, working to identify environmental prevention strategies based on campus needs, as well as to foster additional partnerships between the campus and the community to address underage drinking.

“When I saw this position, I jumped on it because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do – prevention on a college campus,” said Monroe, a teacher by training whose background includes working in substance abuse prevention and managing a healthy lifestyles coalition.

“I came on board right at the beginning when OASAS was getting off the ground and was one of the first CPCs hired,” Monroe said. “This is really the first time the state is focusing on college prevention in this way and it’s exciting to be part of it. We’re more or less proving the need and also proving we have the infrastructure in place to be successful.”

“This is work we would be doing whether or not we had the grant,” said Johann Fiore-Conte, assistant vice president for health and wellness, “But the grant brings us a lot of different supports – not just financial – but also guidance from the state and prevention resource centers.”

Last fall, Monroe conducted a survey, gathering what she called good, solid data. She’s coupling that with results from focus groups and key informant interviews with people who represent different sectors and play a role in reducing high-risk substance abuse and drinking.

“But this needs assessment will be an ongoing process,” she said. “We’re also constantly gathering data from incidents on campus from police reports and getting some data from off campus. It’s helpful that we’re now seeing areas where we can streamline how we’re sharing data. We’ll continue to collect more and evaluate as we go forward.”

The campus is establishing a foundation for the work to come, Monroe said. “Getting the BCCC off the ground was an accomplishment. Its work is theory driven and important. We’re doing everything based on what is called the Strategic Prevention Framework, a planning process for preventing substance abuse and misuse, and we have a list – a catalog if you will – of different environmental, evidenced-based strategies so we can identify which will work best and yield us the best outcomes for our community.”

Marissa Lamphere is a member of the BCCC. As Broome County’s opioid overdose prevention coordinator, she feels strongly that prevention and education initiatives require collaboration and are vital to the community.

“For Broome County, the BCCC is a way for us to work and be involved with Binghamton University,” Lamphere said. “Erin has done a great job of bringing partners to the table, recently adding bar and restaurant owners. Their voice is important because they operate in a different atmosphere and environment and we’re coming together with one common goal – to keep our students safe.

“At the BCCC meetings, we talk about the community needing to do a better job of welcoming students,” Lamphere added. “We’re collaborating to keep students in this town and for them to see Broome County for what it is. There are a lot of really good things happening locally and the students are really willing and interested in working here. They’re young professionals and the next ones who will change our world, so it’s important to embrace them and listen to them.”

However, because the BCCC is still new, Monroe is planning a retreat at the ropes course on campus this summer as it begins to formulate its mission and vision, Monroe said. “We’re going to centralize all of our activities and the main idea is to come up with shared values and a vision for the work going forward. We want to do it in a fun way and then come back to the board room.”

And now, it’s time for other initiatives, such as Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT).

“SBIRT is like a universal screening system,” Monroe said. “We’ll be able to screen more students and therefore be able to identify students who may need a higher level of care before their substance abuse becomes a critical issue.

“We’re working on a plan to roll it out – to scaffold it so it’s not too much at once – so we know if it’s working for everyone involved,” she added. “We hope to screen students as they check into health services through some very brief questions done at the check-in kiosk. Some students would identify and some would not.

After the initial kiosk responses, a health services practitioner will have a five- to 10-minute conversation with the student – the brief intervention and Monroe said has been shown to be successful.

Students deemed at risk after the brief intervention will be referred to the University Counseling Center and, hopefully, they’ll follow through, she added. “We’re still in the planning stages for SBIRT. There will likely be one heavy-drinking question like, ‘How often do you have so many drinks?’ and it will be included with other health questions.

“Students will be able to opt out if they are referred after the brief intervention,” Monroe said. “We can only mandate that they complete sanctions if there are any, not that they participate in the survey. The idea is that they’re doing things by choice.”

The CPCs are also holding two learning collaborative meetings a year in Albany, with the next one in October, Monroe said. “It’s helpful to me because I’m now connected to all of these other CPCs and there is a lot of support from the state as far as webinars and learning opportunities on how to be in line with best practices and have us all doing the same things.”

“Our big, big goal is to change the culture on campus in regards to high-risk drinking and drug use,” she said. “The goal is always for students to have better health outcomes, but you do that by systematically and strategically changing perceptions and trying to change the culture. Little by little we’ll get there.

We want to make sure those messages are out there so students are getting them right off the bat,” she added. “What does a bearcat do? What’s acceptable or not? What’s healthy? What are you trying to get out of your college experience?”

In the future, Monroe said to expect a more rich conversation and opportunities to talk about alcohol and other drugs topics that are important to people. “We’re planning some exciting events for next year. For example, the campus will see a large social norms campaign launched in January 2019. We want to know what people are interested in learning about and talking about. We want to give students more opportunities to talk and be listened to without being judged.”

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