ICHP Receives $4.7 Million to Study Prevention of Underage Drinking in Cherokee Community

The University of Florida’s Institute for Child Health Policy in partnership with Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Services has received a $4.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study ways to prevent underage drinking.

The study, led by Kelli Komro, will focus on American Indian and other youth living in rural, high-risk and underserved communities. The results could influence efforts to prevent underage drinking across the U.S.

“We’re excited to be working together and in close collaboration with schools, families and other community-based organizations to develop and implement what we hope to be a very powerful set of community-based strategies to prevent alcohol and drug use among young people living in northeastern Oklahoma,” said Komro, associate director of ICHP and a professor of health outcomes and policy in the UF College of Medicine.

The five-year study will take place in an area of Oklahoma that suffers from high poverty rates and substantial health disparities.

Komro says the study will focus on preventing alcohol-related problems in young people, either before they start or before they become worse in adolescence and adulthood.

“The teenage years represent a time of risk and opportunity,” Komro said. “We know that early onset of alcohol use is associated with many negative consequences during adolescence and into adulthood. Therefore, we feel this prevention project is very important for all youth living in the participating communities, including both Cherokee and other teens.”

This study is unique in that it focuses specifically on American Indians, a group that Komro says is often underrepresented in clinical and community research.

“This project and our partnership offer an important opportunity to create, implement and evaluate a new, integrated community-based prevention strategy for, and with, such underrepresented populations,” Komro said.

B.J. Boyd, director of Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Services and co-principal investigator on the project, said he is grateful to be working with the University of Florida in this partnership effort and said this is a large step forward for Cherokee Nation and its health services division.

“With this project we are doing the research. We are putting what has been done to the scientific test and establishing valid statistics for prevention efforts,” Boyd said. “The Cherokee Nation has worked many years on prevention efforts, and it will be great now to partner and examine those efforts to share with others.”

Although the trial takes place in Oklahoma, Komro said the results will have broader implications for the country as a whole.

“The goal of our collaboration is to prevent the negative consequences of alcohol and drug use among teens,” she said. “If we attain such success, we are optimistic that the project will be a model for other communities around the country.”

The study builds on the results of years of research and will use tested techniques geared toward spurring change in schools and communities. Researchers will work with multiple segments of the community, including teens, teachers, coaches, parents, merchants and others. The trial will use a combination of community environmental change and simple, brief interventions to help adults identify and intervene if a teen is having problems. It’s a whole community approach – changing the norms around teen drinking and encouraging adults to take action to prevent problems.

“This project represents a special opportunity. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funds large-scale community prevention trials such as this only once a decade, and also typically funds only one team from a nationwide competition. We now are excited to further advance both the science of what works, and the health of real-world communities,” said Alexander Wagenaar, a co-investigator and a professor of health outcomes and policy in the UF College of Medicine.

The study will include all high school students within selected towns. The results will be measured regularly over a four-year period. The project will end in June 2016.