Livingston Parish will be part of a larger statewide grant aimed at curbing underage drinking and misuse and abuse of prescription drugs among residents age 12 to 25, said Donna Bliss, who will coordinate the grant in the parish.

The grant, which will distribute $11.3 million over five years, also hopes to address depression and suicide rates in the same age group, she said.

The funds will be administered through Tangipahoa Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council, which serves Tangipahoa, Livingston and St. Helena parishes, under the leadership of Executive Director Bethny Abel.

As their first step, Bliss is in the process of forming a task force to build a sustainable framework to educate the community on the problems of drug and alcohol abuse by bringing together all those agencies who can help “and get them at the same table talking to each other,” Bliss said.

“Our primary goal as a community-based group in the first year is to develop an action plan that uses an evidence-based, multiple-strategy approach,” Bliss said.

So far, they have an office, in the Livingston Youth and Family Counseling building at 940 Government Drive, Denham Springs, said LYFS Executive Director Kelvin McCoy.

McCoy also will serve on the task force, which will be called the Livingston Youth and Family Together Task Force.

Livingston Parish was not necessarily chosen as part of the project because of higher rates of prescription drug or alcohol abuse. Livingston is, in most cases, below or at least on par with state averages of students who reported they need alcohol or drug treatment, have been drunk or high at school, or have driven drunk.

But, Bliss said, they are rising, which is something that should be addressed. Part of the process of choosing where to fund the programs, initially, Bliss said, were parishes where there was some willingness to build prevention programs.

The data was taken from the statewide Louisiana Caring Community Youth Survey, which is a voluntary assessment offered to sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students in every parish.

To date, representatives from the Livingston Parish School Board, the Parish President’s Office, Students Against Destructive Decisions-Livingston Parish, Child Advocacy Services, Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention, Boy Scouts and Livingston Parish Drug Court have joined the task force, and meetings are being held each month.

Now, they need more community partners, so Bliss is calling out to everyone in Livingston Parish with a stake in addressing rates of prescription drug and alcohol abuse, “and that’s everyone.

“We want social workers, police, fire, teachers, parents, grandparents, community members. Everyone who wants to participate,” she said.

Bliss works for the Louisiana Partnership for Success, a program of the TADAC. LaPFS is funded through the Florida Parishes Human Services Authority Addiction Disorders Services/Prevention.

Bliss has served as a court-appointed special advocate for Livingston Parish, director of community outreach for Child Advocacy Services and as facilitator for the Livingston Parish Human Services Coalition.

For anyone interested in joining the task force, or for more information about meeting times, contact Bliss at donnabliss@live.com or (985) 415-2169.