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National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research:
Presentations, Papers, and Recommendations


Closing Session

How Can Prevention Research Help the Community?

James E. Copple*

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America

National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research

It is a pleasure for me to be here, and this, I believe, is an extremely important topic in an important conference.

My 14-year-old daughter, Jessica, is one of the Nation's leading antidrug warriors, and some of you have met her at the National Leadership Forum. I talked to her on the phone last night, and she said, "What are you doing tomorrow, Dad?"

I said, "Well, I am speaking at the NIDA conference."

She said, "That is a good organization."

I said, "You know about NIDA?" And she said, "You forget. Remember second grade?"

And I said, "Oh, I remember second grade."

Jessica had come home from school, and her then 14-year-old sister was sitting at the table. Jessica was in second grade and had just gone through an extensive drug program at school. We were having tacos that night, I remember, because it was one of the only times we drank Coke with our dinner. But Jessica was not drinking Coke; she was drinking water. And Jessica is a nonstop talker. You know how with your children you develop that ability to screen out and sort as they are talking? So we are sitting there at the table, and finally her older sister looks at Jessica and says, "How come you're not drinking Coke?" Jessica says, "That stuff will kill you." I kind of looked at her, but did not pay too much attention to it.

We went about our dinner - this is a scene out of "Father Knows Best." The table was cleaned off, and I go into the living room and sit down to read. As my wife sits down to read, we hear Jessica in the kitchen. We hear all this commotion every once in a while, but we were just kind of screening all this out.

Then we hear, "Oops!" That is one of those phrases, so her mother and I got up. We walked into the kitchen, and the kitchen is a mess. There are coffee grounds spread everywhere, and Jessica is standing on this stool with this huge can of Coke pouring it down the sink.

I said, "Jessica, what are you doing?"

She said, "I'm doing an interjection."

"An interjection?" I said.

"Dad, this stuff has caffeine in it. Let me tell you what it will do to your heart, what it will do to your brain." And she starts going through all this stuff.

I ask, "Where did you get this?"

She says, "Let me show you this factsheet," and so she gives me this factsheet given to her by her teacher, and at the bottom it said, "NIDA."

I said, "Well, Jessica, I do not think it is an interjection. I think it is an intervention, but you're messing with my drugs."

Another quick story about Jessica. Some of you have heard me tell this, but it makes a point related to prevention research and community organizing. As a community organizer and having led a local coalition, I only cared about research that could help me do my job and help me be more effective. I cared about research that would help me influence policymakers, help me raise money, and help me make change - some of those real tangible things coalition leaders in this field have to deal with every day.

I am divorced, and Jessica lives with her mother in Baltimore. About 2 years ago when Jessica was 12, we arrive at the designated meeting spot, and Jessica and her mother are in the car crying. Eileen rolls down the car window, looks at me and says, "When are you going to solve the drug problem?" This, too, is my fault, right?

I said, "What are we dealing with here?"

She said, "Well, Jessica spent the night at Stephanie's house last night, and Stephanie offered her marijuana. Stephanie's older sister offered her cocaine."

I said, "You're kidding me! Are you okay,


She said, "Dad, I am so disappointed. I am so upset. Stephanie is one of my closest friends."

I said, "What happened?"

She said, "Well, Stephanie started smoking the marijuana."

We have this phone code system that we use when one of our kids is in crisis. They always say, "I have got to call my parent to ask about Granddad. He is sick." That is the code for "Get your butt over here and pick me up."

Jessica used the code, and Mom picked her up. So I get in the car and say to Jessica, "Jessica, what did you tell her?"

She said, "Well, I told her I didn't want that stuff, and then, Dad, I told her everything you taught me."

I said, "Good. Tell me."

She says, "I told her that marijuana causes short-term memory loss. I told her that the THC content in marijuana is worse today than it ever was in the 1960s. I told her it affects motor skills and coordination. And then, Dad, I told her something else I am not too sure is accurate."

I said, "What is that?"

She said, "I told her it stunts breast growth."

I said, "Jessica, why did you do that?"

She said, "For a 12-year-old, Dad, that is important information." She is a community organizer after my own heart. I do not know if there is any research on this, but we need it. Jessica is out there in the field, and her reputation is on the line; this could be a powerful tool.

Community organizers are desperately in need of research that effects change and that is written and communicated in a way that effects change. That is one of the reasons I am excited about the work NIDA is doing in this conference. Organizations like the National Center for the Advancement of Prevention (NCAP) are capturing research and advancing materials and putting them into the hands of practical people who are working day in and day out.

To me, research must be captured for three things: decisionmaking, responsibility, and control. That is, we need to have the kind of research and data that helps us make programmatic decisions in the field as to what works and what does not in the continuum from prevention education, treatment, and law enforcement, to continuing care. We have to convince local policymakers that our strategies, tactics, and decisions about program choices do work.

I must confess, I never spent a lot of time evaluating whether a particular strategy was going to work until I met the evaluator who was assigned to me by the foundation that was supporting our coalition. I can remember headlines in the news when we had a reduction in our community in marijuana and cocaine use at a time when everything else was going up. When we met with our evaluator, four foundation representatives were there. The evaluator put charts up on the board that were flat in terms of coalition activity and coalition involvement.

I asked him one of the most important questions I had asked in that relationship: "If these charts are so flat, then why am I so tired?" And the founder, the funder of the coalition, and the head of one foundation said, "That is a good question. We see some data that are showing decreases in marijuana and in cocaine - in crack cocaine specifically - and the coalition has put a lot of activities in there." He simply was not capturing it, and we were not reporting it in a way that the two could mix. We need great local intervention research to inform and affect our decisionmaking about what programs we should support.

In the past 18 months as CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) has taken off, I discovered that I am under siege by curriculum vendors and others who want me to promote their products, but I do not have the foggiest idea whether their products work in the streets. I need help making decisions.

Another issue is responsibility. Many of us are out there responding to one critical incident after another. A coalition leader goes to work and tries to figure out to which direction he or she should bow. As a coalition leader, I knew it was a good day when the chamber of commerce president took me to breakfast and said, "Copple, you are in bed with all those neighborhood groups that have their hands out." That night at a community town meeting, a neighborhood leader stood up and said, "Copple, the problem with you is you are in bed with the chamber of commerce." After I informed my wife that I was sleeping around, I realized that I had all this stress and pressure from these different groups looking for outcomes. We are constantly being put into a position of having to respond, but we need the ability to respond in a way that is thoughtful, provocative, and effective.

In my judgment, the researchers in this room have a responsibility and an opportunity to give us data that allow us to respond in a way that makes sense in the local community and to express it to us in a way that gives us real data and some real intelligence.

Another issue is control. It is a question of our assuming control of our communities, because, quite frankly, I am weary of national surveys and national data on communities. When I was leading a local coalition, I would be driving to work and listening to National Public Radio. When I would hear that such-and-such organization just released their national data, I would say to myself, "Oh boy, here we go." I would walk into my office, and there would be five calls from the local press asking, "What does this mean? Tell us what this means. Interpret this for us." And I had not even seen the survey.

In the past month, more than 4,000 community coalitions were surprised by the release of three major sets of survey data, and people called our office asking for help and interpretation. Data must be sent to the communities so that the communities can respond and react meaningfully. If it is about promoting stories and organizations, we can help you do that. We can extend the story 2 or 3 days. Many community activists are not as stupid as we sometimes think we are. We can figure this stuff out, and we even have universities in our local communities who can help us figure it out. We have evaluators who can help us figure it out.

Send these data to us in a way that we can extend the story and tell it in a meaningful way in the local community, because my mayor does not care about national data. He cares about Wichita, KS. When I stand in front of a local policymaker, he or she wants to know what it means for Wichita, and that is when I need the capability, tools, and guidance of organizations like NIDA, NCAP, CSAP, and others. I need tools to help me to do that local storytelling in a way that documents and presents real, live community change.

Thank you for the invitation to be here, and Jessica also thanks her "good" organization. And if we ever get the data on breast growth and marijuana, we will have a hit.

I must underscore that I am impressed that this conference is happening and that there is a commitment to make prevention research real for communities. That means a lot to those of us who have worked in communities and are working in community collaboration, because you are providing tools that will help us make local policy and program changes. I think in the long run it will be effective.

*At this printing, Mr. Copple is director of Coalition, State, and Field Services, National Crime Prevention Council.

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