When it comes to the topic of substance abuse, Manhasset anti-drug leader Cathy Samuels said it starts with the wellness of children.
“When my son was in fourth grade I saw my first prevention needs assessment survey in my community, and I realized that it’s not just about navigating your child through high school to get good grades or to go to the best college. It’s really the mission that we as parents have first and foremost — to make sure our children grow up healthy,” she said.
Samuels is the project director for Manhasset’s Coalition Against Substance Abuse, which is finding ways to reach the youth and parents in the community about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
The non-profit is an awardee of a Drug-Free Communities grant through the White House, which funds programs to spread awareness about the issue.
CASA has spearheaded numerous campaigns the get the word out in the community, including information about prevention and how to families can keep an open line of communication about substance abuse.
“It’s almost like the foundation of a house,” Samuels said. “Setting the right foundation with our children is paramount to ensuring they grow up healthy and safe.”
The group doesn’t get involved politically with the issue of substance abuse, but serves as an informational source for the Manhasset community, officials said.
CASA has implemented creative ways of leaving its message around town, like stickers on pizza boxes from restaurants on Plandome Road, or tabletop advertisements at various businesses.
“We implement many environmental strategies, like social marketing campaigns such as ‘Talk, They Hear You’ and ‘Lock Your Meds,’ in order for the message to get across the community, and for people to internalize it,” CASA Executive Director Caryn Sawyer said.
The “Talk, They Hear You” campaign encourages parental communication with teenagers about underage drinking, and “Lock Your Meds” promotes safely storing prescription drugs so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
CASA is focused on creating sustainable programs so if the funding from grants runs out, the group will have partners to help continue its campaigns, Samuels said.
One of those partnerships is with the Town of North Hempstead, through the Stop Throwing Out Pollutants (STOP) program, which encourages residents to safely dispose of prescription medications.
Last week CASA announced that the group was one of the recipients of a $360,000 grant from the Cardinal Health Foundation to help with their efforts of medication disposal.
“Manhasset CASA is effective in educating residents about the importance of safely disposing of unused prescription drugs, as well as increasing awareness of the town’s Stop Throwing Out Pollutants prescription drug disposal program,” North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said. “Our continuing partnership with CASA and the Nassau County Police department will remove dangerous drugs from the mainstream before they can fall into the wrong hands and lead to addiction and heartbreak.”
Sawyer said her work as a clinical psychologist drew her to the issue of substance abuse because of it’s connection to mental wellness.
“It is so important, it’s part of mental health and I just was pulled towards it,” Sawyer said. “In our community, and in every community, there are issues with substance abuse among youth. By reaching parents and youth early we can make a real difference in preventing youth substance abuse.”