"Newark Fighting Back" Organizers Tackled Substance Abuse, Increased Treatment Rates

In 1989, the Boys and Girls Club of Newark initiated a project designed to reduce demand for alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in selected neighborhoods in the city of Newark.

Newark was at that time one of the poorest cities in the nation and substance abuse was a major problem.

The project sought to help neighborhoods learn how to become alcohol- and drug-resistant. It focused primarily on substance abuse prevention activities.

The project was part of part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national program, Fighting Back®: Community Initiatives to Reduce Demand for Illegal Drugs and Alcohol.

Key Results

Among the activities completed during the project, the Newark Fighting Back project:

  • Established three Neighborhood Commons, centers that provided substance abuse information, resource outreach and referral; other services; and meeting space for residents.
  • Implemented Break the Mold, an educational program that revised the curriculum and transformed the culture at Central High School to enhance education and promote healthy lifestyles.
  • Established a project to reduce the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome and drug-abuse related birth defects among babies of pregnant Hispanic substance abusers.
  • Established Operation Homestead, a partnership with the Newark Police Department and the New Jersey State Police to increase foot patrols to reduce drug trafficking and drug-related criminal activity.
  • Conducted a letter writing and petition campaign to encourage New Jersey Transit authority to discontinue its advertising contracts with alcohol- and tobacco-related companies. As a result of the campaign, New Jersey Transit did discontinue its contracts with alcohol and tobacco companies.

Evaluation Findings

According to a national evaluation by Brandeis University, which compared Newark with similar sites where Fighting Back was not implemented:

  • Alcohol and drug treatment rates remained stable in Newark (2.1 percent in 1995 and 1999) in contrast to the comparison sites, where treatment rates increased (from 0.6 percent in 1995 to 1.9 percent in 1999). This was the only one out of 25 outcomes measured where Newark differed from its comparison sites.