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Twitter delivers substance abuse prevention message

The Johnston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition is geared toward preventing drug and alcohol use among young people. So to get that message across, they’re communicating with teens in a language they understand – in 140 characters or less.

At the advice of the Coalition’s two youth members, the Coalition started a Twitter account, @JohnstonSAPC, which provides information on the dangers of substance abuse, as well as updates to Coalition events happening in the community.

“We’re using every avenue we can to get our name out there,” said Student Resource Officer Chuck Psilopoulos from the Johnston Police Department, who is one of the Coalition’s 18 members.

Patricia Sweet, coordinator of Youth and Family Development at Tri-Town Community Action Agency, serves as the coordinator for the Johnston and Smithfield Substance Abuse Prevention Coalitions. She has been with Tri-Town for six years, and though she can rattle off statistics on teen drinking, she admits that using Twitter and Facebook has been a challenge.

“It’s not easy. It’s a full-time job trying to keep up with this stuff,” she said.

The Coalition’s two high school members gave a lesson on Twitter, with the help of Carol Costa. Costa is a property manager for the Johnston Housing Authority but has long been involved in the public relations field. Familiar with her talent for social media, JHA Executive Director David aRusso, also a Coalition member, brought her in to help his colleagues better understand Twitter in particular.

“What an experience it was,” Sweet said, laughing. “It was David’s persuasion that made everyone understand the value of Twitter. He convinced everybody.”

Even Psilopoulos, who uses social media to identify dangerous habits or illegal activities of Johnston students, says there is a learning curve for the adults on the Coalition.

“It takes up a lot of time,” he said.

The social media campaign is one way the Coalition is trying to raise awareness about their efforts.

“We want the students to know that we exist. That’s been more difficult than letting the community know we’re around,” Sweet said. “It’s really difficult reaching the kids and the parents.”

The @JohnstonSAPC account, to date, has shared resources for Rhode Islanders who want to quit smoking, as well as facts about substance abuse. One tweet, for example, noted that more than 1.41 million drivers were arrested in 2010 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. Followers learn about the effects of marijuana, such as the fact that the drug contains more than 400 chemicals “and changes how the brain works,” information that could make a young person think twice before smoking.

More alarming statistics, like the increase in illicit drug use by 12th graders from 21.9 to 25.2 percent in one month, could be helpful for parents or educators who are worried about their teenagers’ activities.

Elected officials, legislators and community members could all benefit from the information being disseminated through the Coalition’s social media accounts. The Coalition is currently working on a resolution, for example, that would mimic a Providence law prohibiting the sale of most flavored tobaccos. If that passes, followers would be the first to know.

The more followers the Twitter account picks up, the wider their net to spread information.

“We’re still in the beginning stages,” Sweet said, explaining that the Coalition will have a follow-up lesson on Twitter at their next meeting.

Follow the Johnston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition @JohnstonSAPC or like them on Facebook.


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