Local substance abuse coalition receives $125K from federal gov't

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) --- A county-wide coalition is receiving federal grant money to reduce substance abuse. On Tuesday, the St. Joseph County Partnership for Education and Prevention of Substance Abuse (PEPSA) announced it was awarded $125,000 a year from White House's National Drug Control Policy agency.

"Having this grant means we were able to demonstrate to the federal government that this is a community that can work together collaboratively and make a difference, especially with the alcohol and other drug use," said Sharon Burden, the PEPSA chairperson.

Various organizations, private citizens, and law enforcement comprise PEPSA, such as the 525 Foundation, co-founded by Becky Savage. In 2015, she and her husband, Mike, lost their two teenage sons, Nick and Jack, who overdosed on OxyContin and alcohol at a party.

"Four years ago, like I said, we did talk to our kids about drug abuse and misuse, but we never talked to them about prescription drug misuse and abuse," explained Becky.

She now spends her time educating communities nationwide about preventing substance abuse.

"That grant is just going to work as a catalyst for all these other coalitions to help make a bigger impact in our community," she said.

The new St. Joseph County sheriff agreed.

"As a former D.A.R.E. officer, working with our local youth and trying to educate them on the dangers involved with using the drugs that were mentioned here today is extremely important, and being more proactive as a community, I think, is extremely important," said Sheriff Bill Redman.

The federal grant funds one full-time and one part-time position for PEPSA in addition to training and potential youth programs.

"I just think that this is a great opportunity for our community to really put more effort into giving young people more resilient skills, more refusal skills, and just look at being smart about what substances they may, or may not, put into their body," said Janet Whitfield-Hyduk, the Drug-Free Communities grant coordinator for PEPSA.

PEPSA could possibly receive the $125,000 yearly grant for up to 10 years.