NORWOOD -- A candidate forum in Norwood will focus solely on substance abuse prevention.
On Oct. 5, ASAP Norwood has invited all City Council and School Board candidates to the Community Center to brainstorm substance-abuse prevention strategies with residents.
ASAP Norwood is a coalition of residents, government agencies -- including the health department and school district -- businesses and community and faith-based organizations, working to make the city drug free. Organizers will start the forum with general information about substance abuse prevention and end by asking each candidate to commit to at least one prevention strategy.
"We don't expect anybody to come into this knowing everything about substance abuse and prevention," said Angela Pancella, an ASAP Norwood organizer. "But I do think it's a good sign to have candidates engaged in the conversation."
ASAP Norwood began with community concerns. The coalition formed after a health department survey in 2012 showed that drug abuse, especially among young people, was one of the biggest worries for Norwood residents.
Student groups at Norwood high and middle schools have organized anti-drug events and campaigns. The Norwood Police Department and Health Department partnered to bring information about treatment and recovery options to households that experience heroin overdoses. Screenings at school help identify students who might be at risk of addiction, and small-group prevention training sessions have come to Norwood homes.
Deb Robison coordinates the efforts in Norwood schools.
"We believe strongly that it can't be eight or 10 people sitting around our table," Robison said. "Our job is to activate the community."
This isn't the first time Norwood has come together to tackle a community problem. Another coalition, Healthy Kids Norwood, has worked to lower the city's childhood obesity rate through a variety of programs and events that provide fresh food and encourage activity. Since then, the obesity rate has decreased from 41 percent to 37 percent.
ASAP Norwood has seen success, too. Fewer students reported using alcohol and other drugs in 2016 compared to 2014, according to the Prevention First student drug use survey, and more students reported that their peers disapproved of alcohol and drug use. Nearly 90 percent of students reported that their peers disapproved of abusing prescription drugs.
But across Hamilton County, the opioid epidemic continues to cause record numbers of overdoses.
Meanwhile, Norwood has a full slate of candidates. The treasurer and all Norwood City Council seats are up for election along with three school board seats. ASAP Norwood decided the time was right for a candidates forum on substance-abuse prevention.
"We have these people out there talking to the community now. We said, 'Let's just go for it,' " Pancella said. "Government is a key space."
The forum will mix candidates, adults and teens in small groups to discuss ways the government can help prevent substance abuse. Could City Council create a youth advisory board to give teens a greater voice in their community? Are better compliance checks, to make sure businesses aren't selling alcohol to minors, necessary? Should substance-abuse prevention resources be on the city's website?
Every idea is worth discussing. Everyone has a chance to speak.
"This isn't about 'gotcha' questions," Pancella said. "We just want to start a conversation."
The ASAP Norwood Candidates Forum will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Norwood Community Center.