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Ohio College Initiative: Reducing High-risk Drinking

Publication Date: Jun 20, 2019

Tyler Begley, OCPSA
Coordinator of the Ohio College Initiative to Enhance Student Wellness

Prevention Action Alliance

James Allen Trevino, OCPC
Prevention Administrator
Office of Prevention and Wellness

Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services 

Changing the Alcohol Culture on Ohio College Campuses

PAA LogoThe Ohio College Initiative to Enhance Student Wellness (OCI) was created in 1996 when leaders from 19 Ohio campuses and state officials came together to work on the issue of reducing high risk drinking. In 1997, presidents of 49 institutions of higher education signed a letter of commitment to make addressing student alcohol abuse a priority. The Prevention Action Alliance (PAA) serves as the facilitating agency for the initiative funded by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. For the first time, the academic leadership of an entire state has made a formal commitment in addressing substance abuse.

OCI partners with many state and local stakeholders to ensure that a universal message of prevention is being communicated across all Ohio campuses. Ohio is fortunate to also be home of Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery (HECAOD), at The Ohio State University. The HECAOD and OCI have partnered on many initiatives and continue to work collaboratively to meet the needs of the state’s colleges and universities. 

For more than 20 years, OCI has worked with college health and wellness professionals to enhance student wellness, promote healthy campuses, provide professional development opportunities, and share resources. From its beginning, OCI has focused on environmental prevention strategies through forming campus-community coalitions that work to change the alcohol-related culture surrounding college students. To achieve cultural change, member campuses coordinate efforts to alter the physical, social, economic, and legal environments that influence the decisions students make about alcohol. OCI has grown to address the full spectrum of substance misuse prevention and promotion of mental health wellness. OCI now includes 54 public and private, large and small, rural and urban campuses. OCI initiatives are guided by an advisory council consisting of representatives from Northeast Ohio Medical University, University of Dayton, Youngstown State University, Ohio University, Defiance College, John Carroll University, and Central State University. 

Ohio MHAS bannerThe OCI understands the importance of campuses securing funding opportunities to make progress towards addressing mental health and substance use issues. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) provides funding to provide such opportunities. OCI, along with another OhioMHAS funded program at PAA, the Statewide Prevention Coalition Association (SPCA), provides a funding opportunity called #PUSH4Prevention for community coalitions and institutions of higher education. These #Push4Prevention grants require collaborative efforts to increase the number and effectiveness of environmental strategies in use on campuses and in communities and to foster innovative approaches for promoting prevention messaging at the local level. Past campus recipients of #Push4Prevention are Ohio University, Toledo University, University of Cincinnati, Baldwin Wallace University, University of Dayton, and Defiance College.

The Environmental Prevention Assessment and Planning Project

An additional funding opportunity for OCI members is the Environmental Prevention Assessment and Planning Project. This is a partnership between OCI partners and the College Town Assessment, LLC, to deploy the Optimal College Town Assessment (OCTA), which is designed to measure campus and community member perceptions of one another. OCI and CTA went an extra step further to add several additional items to the OCTA that are designed to assess environmental factors that contribute to alcohol use and abuse in college-age populations. OCI partners with HECAOD to provide technical assistance to galvanize leveraging partnerships within the community through elected officials, police departments, fire departments, health departments, chambers of commerce, and other stakeholders to increase participation in the assessment survey. The quantitative and qualitative data collected by the OCTA is used to develop and implement evidence-based prevention plans for campus and community partners. Past recipients of the Environmental Prevention Assessment and Planning Project are Ohio University, University of Cincinnati, Miami University, Cleveland State University, and Otterbein University.

Addressing Top Concerns 

Academic fallout, health problems, and acute risks such as impaired driving, suicide ideation, and sexual assaults, continue to be concerns related to college alcohol and drug use (NIAAA CollegeAIM). However, in recent years, the prevalence of mental health research has shown the rise of behavioral health risk factors are increasing the likelihood of substance abuse and mental health disorders.  

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 3 college students will struggle with mental health during their time in college. Another pressing concern is that suicide has risen to the second leading cause of death among college students. More than 30 percent of college students report having been diagnosed or treated by a professional for some form of psychological distress in the last year (ACHA-NCHA). These are alarming statistics for everyone. Only through campus and community collaboration and support of evidence-based prevention programs will we as country effectively address the issues that our students face. 

Ohio House Bill 28, that became effective in October 2015, requires each public institution of higher education to provide incoming students with information about mental health topics, including available depression and suicide prevention resources. Ohio State Representative Marlene Anielski of Cuyahoga County proposed this law to bolster suicide prevention efforts through communication channels at public colleges and universities. Each of Ohio Institution of Higher Learning must comply by developing methods and materials to help their campus populations access resources on the following topics:

  • Crisis intervention – including national state and local hotlines 
  • Mental Health Programs – availability of local mental health services 
  • Multimedia Applications – including crisis hotline, suicide warnings, and resources offered, and free applications 
  • Student Communication – outreach plan for education and activities regarding suicide prevention 
  • Postvention – plan of how to communicate with students, staff and parents after a loss of a person to suicide

The bill also requires that the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services post free suicide prevention material and programs on their websites. A workgroup comprised of department staff and professionals in evidence-based prevention programming was convened to develop a website to support Ohio's public colleges and universities in complying with this law. This website, https://suicideprevention.ohio.gov/,is a portal to resources that will help Ohio's public state colleges and universities to meet their requirement. 

Reach Out IconOne of the examples of a resource on the site is The REACH OUT mobile app. This app is highly customizable and can include campus colors, logos, graphics, and branding as well as customized content and campus and community resources.  Ohio has also developed a Crisis Text Line which is promoted on campuses across the state. It is a free, 24/7 support for those in crisis to get in contact with a trained Crisis Counselor. This crisis does not have be suicide ideation, it can be any painful emotion for which the student needs support. The goal of the text conversation is to get the student to a calm and safe place, sometimes is a referral to resources and other times it’s a matter of someone being there in an instant to have a conversation. 

Prevention Strategies Showing Promise

Campuses within our network refer to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)’s College Alcohol Intervention Matrix to reduce high-risk drinking. There are several strategies showing promise of being invested in: peer education models, parent-based interventions, town and gown strategies, and strategies that focus on a positive campus climate geared towards reducing the stigma of mental health. On campuses where the faculty and staff feel that they have adequate resources and services to support students with mental health problems, there is significantly higher use of mental health services by students, both on and off campus.(RAND Corporation, 2016)*

*“Campus Climate Matters: Changing the Mental Health Climate on College Campuses Improves Student Outcomes and Benefits Society.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9904.html.

Peer Education Models 

In Ohio, we are beginning to work to increase peer education models across our member campuses. Peer education programs come in many different variations from development to implementation. We are working within our network to identify which models are the most effective in addressing substance misuse prevention and promotion of mental health wellness. 

We are also seeing a rise in interest from our campus members to implement parent-based intervention strategies, such as the Parent Handbook developed by Rob Turrisi Ph.D.  Turrisi’s Parent Handbook was named one of only two prevention approaches that met the Surgeon General’s criteria for efficacy in reducing college student drinking and consequences. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s College AIM Matrix said the handbook is an effective intervention to change attitudes or behavior. We are excited to see Ohio campuses take interest these evidence-based strategies and look forward to promoting them with our partners across the state.  

Activities Planned for the Coming Year

OCI will soon implement a new resource for its members that will allow them to be more connected to one another and have the ability to leverage the true value of a state-wide network. The OCI Member Portal, located on the PAA website, will allow members to connect with each other to share their campus’ initiatives and learn more about what other Ohio campuses are currently working on as well as network with their peers. The OCI Member Portal will also have learning opportunities to support Ohio campuses’ health and wellness professionals.

For More Information

To learn more about the OCI, visit our webpage:
and stay in touch by receiving signing up to receive the OCI digital newsletters that focus on keeping prevention professionals up-to-date on evidence-based programs and strategies, spotlighting professional development opportunities, and sharing resources regarding grant opportunities.