Trumbull’s Prevention Coalition has grown and expanded its role so much since it began that it has even outgrown its name. Now, the evolution is set to continue, with vaping and emotional health as the next targets.

“We started off in 2006 as the Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking, and we’ve continued to evolve,” said Project Director Melissa McGarry. The group, now simply TPAUD, funds police training programs and more. Since its founding, TPAUD has received more than $1.8 million in state and federal grants.

With the recent announcement that TPAUD has received a five-year, $625,000 federal Drug-Free Communities grant to continue its work, McGarry is already working on programs designed to reduce the rate of teen vapting, which is still growing even as Connecticut is seeing its first fatalities from side effects of vape use.

“Vaping is just another form of nicotine addiction, and there have been no long-term studies into the health effects on people, especially teens,” she said.

When TPAUD began in 2006, the dangers of cigarette smoking were already well known. Within a few years, the sight of a high school student puffing on a cigarette had virtually disappeared, she said.

“We’re a prevention group, and we weren’t even talking about cigarettes anymore, that’s how rare it was,” McGarry said. “The tobacco companies saw that too, and that’s why they jumped in on all these vaping products.”

While TPAUD is focusing on the next prevention goal, McGarry said the key to receiving the additional funding was the group’s ability to document its previous efforts and their effectiveness.

According to TPAUD’s 2019 information brief, alcohol use by teens in Trumbull has decreased 70 percent since 2007 and binge drinking has dropped 77 percent. Since the group added other substances to its prevention work, marijuana and prescription drug use have dropped 31 percent and 71 percent respectively since 2013.

Furthermore, McGarry said, Trumbull parents do a good job setting expectations and modeling appropriate behavior, and teens know where to get help if they have a concern or problem.

Still, the results could be better, McGarry said. In addition to vaping, which has jumped from 15 percent to 22 percent usage rate in the past two years, Trumbull teens experience high levels of stress in their day-to-day lives. And though the drinking rate has plummeted, social media leads teens to believe more of their peers are drinking than actually are.

“We know that teen alcohol use is not stigmatized on social media, and that skews the norm,” McGarry said. “The kids that are drinking at a party paste it all over social media, and the kids that stayed home and watched a movie don’t tweet that they stayed home. So even though the data shows that only about 17 percent of kids are drinking, 90 percent of teens think all their peers are doing it.”

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, a founding member of TPAUD, celebrated the news as being good for families and the town.

“This funding will allow TPAUD to build on our recent success in reducing underage drinking and enable us to address emerging challenges such as opioids, vaping and mental health issues,” Tesoro said.

McGarry said despite the funding, TPAUD remains dependent on parents and community volunteers.

“Our goal is a safe and healthy community,” she said. “We welcome Trumbull residents to join our efforts.”