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Carroll chosen for National Prevention Week event

National Prevention Week, observed May 17 through May 23, got started a little early on Thursday, with a visit to Westminster from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration official David Wilson for a kick-off event hosted by the Carroll County Coalition Against Underage Drinking.

Wilson was joined by local law enforcement, government and public health officials, and the teenage performers from the FoolProof Improvisational Theatre Troupe for an event that celebrated the efforts of Carroll County citizens to combat underage drinking and drug abuse.

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The Carroll kick-off event was specially selected as the one such local prevention event across the nation that would be attended by Wilson, who is the coordinator of the National Prevention Week efforts at SAMHSA. He had also tapped FoolProof and Carroll County Health Department Substance Abuse Prevention supervisor Linda Auerback to help produce a promotional video for the national program.

"Carroll County has really made a place on the map here with prevention," Auerback said.

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National Prevention Week is a public health observance created by SAMHSA that focuses on raising awareness of underage drinking, tobacco use, the prevention of suicide, the prevention of opioid and prescription drug abuse, and mental health and wellness, Wilson said. Because the program is four years old, SAMHSA is still building connections with local organizations around the country, but he said the county's efforts have already stood out from the crowd.

" SAMHSA funds about 6,000 community coalitions and organizations across the country, and of those 6,000, we have had a really strong partnership with the Carroll County coalition," Wilson told the group of about 50 people who had gathered at the Carroll County Fraternal Order of Police building Thursday afternoon. "Because of the impact that you guys so greatly demonstrate year after year, you were chosen by my organization to be the face and voice of National Prevention Week."

Wilson said part of what drew him to Carroll was a video on the topic of underage drinking that featured performers from FoolProof, a theater group composed of high school students who perform scenarios relating to the topics of National Prevention Week.

"I saw the video; boy, that was one of the best … videos I've ever seen around underage drinking. I knew that I am responsible for the promotional video for National Prevention Week every year, and I need those young voices," Wilson said. "I reached out to Linda [Auerback] first. I said, 'Linda I hear you have fabulous voices, youth voices. Would you mind being a part of the National Prevention Week promotion video?"

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Auerback said yes, as did FoolProof. The theater troupe has been working at exactly this kind of message for more than 28 years, according to founder and leader Paul Zimmermann, who was presented with a citation from the Maryland General Assembly at Thursday's event in recognition of his work with the group. The teens he has worked with over the years have cultivated the technique of showing, rather than telling, their peers and younger children the emotional consequences of risky behaviors.

"A lot of their peers will listen to them because it is not an adult talking head, talking down to them. Even if we don't talk down to them, it's still an adult talking and you can kind of see the switches going off, showing that they are shutting down," Zimmermann said. "They hear so many lectures and lectures, and that's one of the reasons why we became FoolProof — to give them an alternative way to see the effects of these things."

Zimmermann's troupe performed for the crowd at Thursday's event in Westminster, but in many ways it was just a warmup for a larger performance and a larger honor for the performers and all of those involved in prevention work in Carroll County.

On Monday, May 18, FoolProof will travel to Washington, D.C., with members of the Carroll County Coalition Against Underage Drinking to perform at the national prevention week kickoff event, which is being held at the National Press Club near the White House. According to Wilson, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, will be in attendance.

"It's really incredibly exciting, and especially for the kids, because this gives them a much larger, wider exposure," Zimmermann said. "These kids work so hard to come to the point where we are and for them to get that type of recognition I think is incredible."

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