Guest Blog by Brandi Gill Walton County Prevention Coalition Member Representative from The Department of Health in Walton County


Guest Blog by Brandi Gill Walton County Prevention Coalition Member Representative from The Department of Health in Walton County


The Department of Health in Walton County (DOH) has partnered with the Walton County

Prevention Coalition (WCPC) since it was established in 2004, and as a community planner at

DOH, I’ve been an active member since 2015. The WCPC is a vital partner in empowering

people, especially kids, in being their healthiest selves, and that is ultimately the goal of DOH.

Having this coordinated approach to helping our community is key to making true and lasting


When we talk about prevention in terms of health, we typically think of preventing diseases with

vaccines or preventing pregnancies through birth control. But, prevention is so much more

minute than that. The best way to help people make better, healthier choices is to prevent them

from making bad ones in the first place. Prevention is a core aspect in public health, and the

prevention of tobacco and substance use is extremely important in affecting a person’s physical

and mental health.

The mission statements for both of these organizations focuses on improving our communities

through collaborative efforts. With that, we are able to align resources and provide support for

various prevention efforts. Part of the benefit of this partnership is the ability to share data that is

used to determine what improvements are needed in our community.

I’ve seen so many positive impacts while being a part of the Coalition. As a mom, knowing that

we’ve made good strides in lessening underage drinking on our beaches during the summer

and spring break, is a big one. Also, the positive interactions of the school resource officers with

students, is huge. Building positive relationships with school resource officers encourages

students to make better decisions because they know if they get caught with tobacco or an

illegal substance, they will be letting that person down who they hopefully look up to. Hidden in

Plain Sight is also a great campaign that, again, as a parent, I think is important. Not all parents

know what to look for or know that there are so many things out there that look like something

normal, when they can actually be very dangerous.

I’m grateful to be a part of such an amazing group of people who are all working together as one

to make our community a better place to live, learn, work and play.

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An Interview with Stephen Brown - faith based representative for WCPC


An Interview with Stephen Brown - faith based representative for WCPC

“I really wanted to do something for our community, Stephen Brown of the Walton County Prevention Coalition, said. “People tend to say there is not a problem with drugs in Walton County; but, if you look around, you’ll see there are issues that we should be working to educate people about.”

Stephen Brown is the Walton County Prevention Coalition’s (WCPC) faith-based representative. In this role, Brown acts as a liaison between the WCPC and local churches to encourage parishioners to get involved in supporting the Coalition’s mission. Brown joined the Coalition seven years ago after he retired and his wife passed away. After attending a meeting, he knew that he believed in the mission and felt the organization was a great fit for him. 

“I was looking for something to keep me busy, something to give me purpose during a time of transition and healing,” Brown said. “Being a part of the Walton County Prevention Coalition provides me with the information and tools I need to make real changes in the community.” 


Brown focuses his efforts on the south end of the county, educating the community about potential threats on the horizon and sharing resources to help parents and educators have meaningful conversations with youth about substance use.


Walton County Prevention Coalition currently works with multiple partner agencies in Walton County, including the Walton County Health Department, Walton County Sheriff's Office, City of Defuniak Police Department, Walton County School District, Emerald Coast Crime Stoppers, and a number of other local organizations and individuals. 


Guest Blog: 13 years invested in the Walton County Prevent Coalition by Gabrielle Woods


Guest Blog: 13 years invested in the Walton County Prevent Coalition by Gabrielle Woods

My parents encouraged me to join the Walton County Prevention Coalition 13 years ago as a student, and now that I am a parent, I continue to participate because I believe in their mission. The Coalition is changing norms. Together, we have created and implemented multiple ordinances that really make a difference. We are like a frontline defense for our community. We find out what threats are on the horizon and come up with strategies to combat substance abuse issues before they affect our children. 

It’s important for parents to be informed, so we can all be prepared and know the signs and behaviors that accompany youth substance use.  I personally love the Coalition’s Hidden in Plain Sight campaign because it’s a real eye opener. There are so many substances kids are using to get high, and they are things most parents wouldn’t normally be concerned about. Parents can find additional tools for having conversations and spotting the signs of substance under the Campaigns Tab - Hidden in Plain Sight- above.

Not only does the Coalition give parents tools to recognize risky behavior but they ask the tough questions to ensure teens are getting the information they need to make the best choices. One of those questions that is consistently asked is, are we educating teens enough so they don’t make choices that lead them down the wrong path? When I was a teen, my parents and the Coalition constantly warned me of the dangers of drug use. Most teens think it’s okay to try something once, but that is simply not the case. We need to help teens understand that trying a drug one time can alter the chemicals in your brain. You can get addicted the first time you use a substance. 

I encourage you to get involved with the work the Coalition does in Walton County. If you have children at home, get them involved too. It is all of our responsibilities to make sure information is available to help parents and youth in our community make the best possible choices.



Parents: Why having that conversation with your teen matters


Parents: Why having that conversation with your teen matters

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As a parent, we know you worry about your child all the time, including if they’re using illegal substances.

While you may feel like the conversation will be awkward, it’s necessary, even if you don’t think your child is being exposed to drugs and alcohol. 

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, nearly 26 percent of young people were offered, sold or given a drug on school property and more than 60 percent of high-school students reported that they believed their school was “drug infected,” meaning drugs are used, kept or sold on school ground, in 2011.

So, your child likely has access to drugs, and even if you think that your child wouldn’t use them, it’s still important to have that conversation with them, as more than 4,000 teens try an illicit drug for the first time every day. 

 You can change your child’s future, even if you think they aren’t listening to you. Teens that learn about the risk of alcohol and drugs from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use than those whose parents don’t talk to them about it. 

And, if you set clear boundaries regarding drugs and alcohol, your child is more likely to avoid illicit drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that children ages 12 to 17 were less likely to abuse a substance if they believed their parents would disapprove. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to start the conversation with your child, visit


The Risks of Marijuana Usage in Youth


The Risks of Marijuana Usage in Youth

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As the legalization of marijuana for medical or adult recreational use continues to grow in popularity, it’s easy for the youth of today to lose sight of the dangers of using it, causing it to be the most used illicit drug in the U.S.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, the number of young people who believe regular marijuana use is risky is decreasing.

But, it is risky, especially long-term, specifically for young people. 

 The NIDAreported that a study from New Zealand conducted in part by researchers at Duke University showed that people who continually smoked marijuana in their teens lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38, and the abilities lost didn't return in those who later quit using. 

 And, according to the American Addiction Center, prolonged marijuana use in young people can lead to memory problems, issues in dopamine release in the brain, respiratory problems, limited sexual function as well as greater risk of heart attack, addiction and cancer. 

 In addition to health problems, the AACalso reported a link between early marijuana use and social and financial status, explaining that those using usually developed issues with debt and cash flow. 

 So, yes, while marijuana’s legalization grows, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe. It’s still a drug and should be treated as such. 

 For more information about the dangers of marijuana usage or to learn how to talk to your child about marijuana,


If you think this can't happen in your family, you are mistaken: Teen substance abuse a problem in Walton County


If you think this can't happen in your family, you are mistaken: Teen substance abuse a problem in Walton County


At the age of 16 with his father’s death as the catalyst, Jason Sparks began experimenting with drugs.

Jason wasn’t--and isn’t-- the only underage individual to experiment with drugs.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 28.6 million people aged 12 or older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days in 2016, which corresponds to about 1 in 10 Americans overall (10.6 percent) but ranges as high as 1 in 4 for young adults aged 18 to 25.

While some are fortunate enough to put the drugs down and walk away, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that those who begin using substances earlier are more likely to develop an addiction, which is what happened to Jason.

His seemingly small choice as a 16 year old led to a seven year battle.

In those seven years, Jason had multiple run-ins with the law, leading to him being placed on probation.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that more than 140,000 drug arrests involving juveniles were made in 2010. And, in addition to facing legal consequences, such as jail time, having a drug-related conviction can negatively impact a young person’s future--barring them from potential jobs, losing scholarships and more.

But, things began to look up for Jason. He’d been released from a rehabilitation program in Pensacola and returned to Walton County ready to start fresh.

Just a few months later, he relapsed. With failing drug tests and failing to report to his probation officer, he was in a full downward spiral.

On April 17, his mother was informed that Jason had died from a drug overdose.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015, more than 4,000 young people, aged 15 to 24, died from drug overdoses. 

“If you think this can't happen in your family, you are mistaken,” said his mother. “I can assure you I never imagined in a million years this would be the path I would be walking.”

For more information or resources about teen substance abuse, visit our website at


Underage Drinking: More consequences than you know


Underage Drinking: More consequences than you know

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Underage drinking is a serious problem in the United States. Alcohol is reported to be the most abused substance of America’s young people.

But, what many don’t realize there are more consequences associated with underage drinking outside of legal problems. 

Those that partake in drinking alcohol under the legal age are more likely to:

Do Poorly in School

According to Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, those under 21 who drink alcohol have higher rate of academic problems and poor school performance. About a quarter of college students reported using alcohol resulted in missing classes, falling behind in school work, performing badly on papers and exams, and receiving lower grades overall.

Suffer an Injury or Death

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is a factor in more than 4,000 deaths of people under the age of 21 each year.

In 2011 alone, the Drug Abuse Warning Network estimates about 188,000 alcohol-related emergency room visits involved patients between 12 and 20 years old, and 20 percent of these visits resulting in an admission to the hospital, transfer to another healthcare facility or even death.

Engage in Risky Behavior

According to a study in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, adults are more likely than adolescents to analyze risks when making decisions, and this behavior is only amplified when under the influence of alcohol.

Teens represent only 10 percent of the driving population, yet they make up 17 percent of fatal alcohol-induced accidents.

And, according to a study, adolescents that drink underage are up to 23 times more likely to engage in sexual activity, including unprotected intercourse, which can lead to the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.

Have Health Problems

Adolescents that drink put themselves at risk for a myriad of potential health problems as an adult. Drinking alcohol during a period of rapid growth and transition adversely affects the critical hormonal balance for normal development, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The Communities for Drug Free Youth reports it can cause skin problems, nervous system damage, memory loss and liver damage.

So, is it worth it? For more information, visit the resources page of our website,


Marijuana Parent Prevention Toolkit


Marijuana Parent Prevention Toolkit

Even though the number of teens smoking marijuana has dropped since the 1990s, smoking marijuana is still a prevalent and dangerous problem for teens. Parents, by having a well-organized toolkit of information and resources, you can talk to your teen about marijuana and can ensure that they are one of the smart teens who never lights up or takes a puff in the first place.

Talking to Your Teen about Marijuana

In 2012, recreational marijuana smoking became legal in Colorado and Washington; other states have also since legalized it. The result of legalization lends to the narrative that smoking marijuana is okay. Those who support legalizing marijuana point out that marijuana is not as dangerous as other drugs, which somehow makes it okay. Some argue that the drug is not dangerous at all.

This information is what your teen hears, and unless you talk to your teen about marijuana, that is all that they hear. You have the power to influence your teen. In fact, according to a study conducted by Columbia University, teens that choose to be drug free say that their parents are the number one influencers in that decision. Other studies show that:

·         Parents who talk to their children about using drugs are less likely to use drugs

·         Teens who have regular family meals are less likely to ever smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs

When you do talk to your teen about smoking pot, talk to them about the facts.

Side Effects of Smoking Marijuana

Marijuana’s Effects on Your Teen’s Mental Health

Your parent prevention toolkit should be packed with information that combats and contradicts the things people who support marijuana legalization and usage say. Again, your teen hears that marijuana isn’t addictive or doesn’t lead to traffic accidents or doesn’t have long-term side effects; however, studies reveal otherwise:

·         Teen brains aren’t finished developing until the mid 20s and sometimes-early 30s; early exposure to marijuana could change brain development.

·         Teens who started smoking before age 16 did worse on cognitive tests of brain function in areas related to planning, abstract thinking, understanding rules, and inhibiting inappropriate responses.

·         The negative impacts on memory and learning can last days or weeks and can make learning new information, completing tasks, or stringing together sequential information challenging.

·         Marijuana negatively impacts learning and memory and is shown to lead to decreased IQ among teens who regularly smoke.

·         Roughly one in six who start smoking marijuana at an earlier age are more likely to become addicted.

How Marijuana Affects Your Teen Physically

As though the short and long-term damages to mental health aren’t enough, there are other outcomes directly related to smoking marijuana that can shorten your teen’s lifespan. For example:

·         Marijuana really does make users bigger threats on the road as it leads to impaired judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time.

·         Marijuana use increases the risk of cardiorespiratory disease and testicular cancer.

The Real Facts about Today’s Marijuana

Today’s Marijuana is Stronger and More Dangerous

Your teen might be curious to know why the facts about marijuana have seemingly changed. The reality is that today’s marijuana is stronger and more likely to be laced with synthetic chemicals that mimic marijuana’s effects but that are infinitely more dangerous and that are potentially deadly.

·         THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marujuana) was 1.3% in 1978; in 2013, it was on average 15% and sometimes over 30%.

·         Marijuana edibles like cookies and chocolate are usually 10 times stronger than what kids smoke.

·         K2 and Spice, which are labeled as not being for human consumption, are often laced into marijuana mixtures.

·         Effects of synthetic chemicals, which often change from batch-to-batch include rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behavior, and suicidal thoughts

The reality is that marijuana is addictive; next to alcohol, marijuana is the leading cause of substance dependence. A 2013 study showed that marijuana use accounted for 4.2 million of the 6.9 million dependent upon or using an illicit drug.

That is a key message to drive home to your teen: marijuana is still illegal in most states, so even if the very real potential health consequences don’t seem to influence your teen, remind them that illegal drug usage can send them to jail.

Signs of Marijuana Use in Teens

In addition to being proactive about talking to your teen about smoking marijuana, it is useful to be aware of potential behavioral changes in your teen or their friends that indicate they are doing drugs. Signs include:

·         Changes in mood, interest in former hobbies, academic performance, sleeping patterns, and friends or other once-steady relationships.

·         Red eyes, dizziness or poor coordination, giddiness, and poor memory

·         Odor on clothes or in car / bedroom.

Keep in mind that marijuana concentrates (butane hash oil) can used (with no telltale odor) in vaporizing pens now popular among many young people.

When it comes to preventing teen marijuana use, the best tool in your parental kit is communication. Spend quality time with your teen. Talk to them. Show a genuine interest in their lives. They listen. If your job to make sure that what they are listening to you is you and not someone else.

Having a well-stocked toolkit of facts and information related to smoking marijuana and being willing to communicate are things parents need to keep their teens safe from drugs. The Walton County Prevention Coalition (WCPC) is dedicated to supporting parents in helping teens make good decisions. Visit the WCPC website for additional resources useful for ensuring your teen never inhales (not even once). 


Talk. They Hear You. by SAMHSA


Talk. They Hear You. by SAMHSA

Talk. They hear you is a national media campaign launched by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) aimed toward giving parents and caregivers support in starting the conversation with their children about the dangers of alcohol. SAMHSA provides resources such as the Talk. They Hear You (TTHY) role-playing app, action plans, fact sheets, and more, all of which helps parents and caregivers confidently and assertively talk to children about underage drinking.  

When to Talk to Kids about Alcohol

According to SAMHSA, 9-15 are crucial ages in starting the discussion about drinking. At around age nine is usually when it occurs to children that alcohol may not be just for adults. By 15, those curious kids are already drinking. Studies support that young people who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to struggle with alcohol problems as adults versus those who don’t begin drinking until they’re 21 or older. 

Prevalence and Risk of Underage Drinking

According to a national survey, in 2013, 8.7 million children between ages 12 to 20 reported consuming alcohol within the past month of the survey. Roughly 5.4 million of those youth were binge drinkers and 3.7 million were heavy drinkers. The earlier children start drinking, the more likely it is that they will become binge drinkers; binge drinking means consuming 4-5 alcoholic beverages in a two-hour period. 

Hazards of Underage Drinking

When young people binge drink, they do lasting damage to their brains’ white and grey matter. This negatively influences spatial reasoning, attention, decision-making, impulse control, and other important cognitive functions. Brain damaging side effects can be life long. Additional dangers related to underage drinking include:
•    Getting bad grades and other academic problems
•    A greater likelihood of trying or abusing other drugs
•    An increased chance of engaging in risky sexual activity that is unintended, unwanted, or unprotected
•    Higher chance of suffering injury or death as a result of accidents
The risks increase the earlier drinking starts, which is why it is important to start talking to children early about underage drinking. Parents and caregivers are the most important and respected lines of defense in preventing underage drinking.

Resources to Help Parents Take Action

Many parents want to talk to their kids about drinking; however, they aren’t sure where to start the conversation, how to approach the topic in a way that will reach children, or what information is appropriate to share with children. 

Tips for Talk to Kids about Underage Drinking 

Set goals for talking to children about underage drinking. Five recommended goals are:
•    Show you don’t approve of underage drinking; over 80% of children ages 10-18 report their parents are the main influence in whether or not they drink.
•    Show your child that you care about their happiness and well-being. You’re on their side; let them know that your stance on drinking is because you want them to be happy and safe.
•    Show your child that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to underage drinking. Establish yourself as a knowledgeable authority on the subject of alcohol by arming yourself with defensible facts and information. Your child will hear about alcohol from peer influencers as well; make sure they see you as one who they can turn to as a trustworthy source of information.
•    Show you’re paying attention to your child because children most often try to drink when and if they think no one is watching.
•    Give you children skills and tactics for avoiding the pressures of underage drinking. Peer pressure can compel kids who never want to take the first sip to drink, and it’s a slippery slope from there. Help your child build and practice skills.

Apps for Adults and Children

To help adults know what to say and for children to learn more about alcohol’s harmful effects, SAMHSA has created two apps. One is the Talk. They Hear You (TTHY) app, which is an interactive mobile application that uses avatars to help adults learn what to do and what not to do when it comes to talking to children about underage drinking. 

The other is the Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain (AlcoholFX) app. This free app is science-based Reach Out Now mobile app for tablets that educates students ages 10-12 on how alcohol harms their developing brains. 

Before your children download the AlcoholFX app, talk to them about the information it contains; doing so will help your children recognize you as an authority figure. Whatever you do, don’t wait to start the conversation with your children about how alcohol can harm them.

Engage with other proactive parents by using the #WeTalked hashtag to share the steps and story you’re taking to prevent underage drinking.

Underage drinking can have lasting effects, which is why it’s important for parents and caregivers to be able to help children resist peer pressure and to never drink in the first place. The Walton County Prevention Coalition (WCPC) is dedicated to supporting parents and children in talking openly and in making good choices when it comes to avoiding underage drinking. Visit the WCPC website for additional resources.