Find out how this new initiative with Addiction Prevention Coalition is helping stop HIV in Birmingham’s youth

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Thumbs up to students taking action in Birmingham. Photo via Addiction Prevention Coalition

Did you know that Alabama has one of the highest rates of new HIV infections per capita affecting many young people in their teens and 20s? Here’s how Birmingham nonprofit Addiction Prevention Coalition has partnered with other community resources to educate youth on how to prevent both addiction and HIV via their latest initiative, Project LEAP.

About Project LEAP

Project LEAP (Linkage, Education and Prevention) is an innovative program partnership with Addiction Prevention Coalition and community resources like AIDS Alabama, Children’s of Alabama Adolescent Health Clinic and UAB Beacon.

The goal of the innovative program is to educate and prevent substance use and HIV in youth in Birmingham.

What led to Project LEAP?

Local students make an impact in Birmingham by taking part in APC’s programs. Photo via Addiction Prevention Coalition

As an HIV physician and researcher, Dr. Ellen Eaton, M.D. for UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases noticed that while a lot of work was being done toward HIV prevention in the Southeast, there was very little focus on youth with substance use. 

Because of the large rural burden of HIV in Alabama, our state is a priority location for Ending the HIV Epidemic, a national initiative announced in 2019.

“When the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) funding opportunity was announced, more and more people came on board to pitch in and help develop Project LEAP.”

Dr. Ellen Eaton, M.D., UAB Division of Infectious Diseases

Behind Project LEAP

Addiction Prevention Coalition
You’ll always find friendly faces at APC. Photo via Addiction Prevention Coalition

At the core of LEAP is the prevention navigator—a person knowledgeable in addiction and HIV, who can engage with and counsel the at-risk group. In this case, young people. 

“Hiring the right navigator is essential. Having a young, relatable face who can meet with youth, counsel, and educate them, and link them to HIV and addiction services when needed. 

Our prevention navigator, Ashley, is so easy to talk to and trustworthy. The young people really enjoy working with her. This grant would not succeed without her passion for addiction prevention and public health and her skills as an educator.”

Dr. Ellen Eaton, M.D., UAB Division of Infectious Diseases

As part of the program, participants complete an assessment of their substance use and HIV risk behaviors. One thing I found interesting is that the results of the assessment allow the Prevention Navigator to tailor education needs to each participant.

“Many have high-risk alcohol use and increase the sexual partners they have and the number of risk they are willing to take when drinking. Others are dabbling with multiple substances like tobacco and marijuana. It’s been eye opening to see how young substance use starts in our school age youth here in Jefferson County.” 

Dr. Ellen Eaton, M.D., UAB Division of Infectious Diseases

What makes Project LEAP so vital to at-risk youth in Birmingham?

“Through this program and our skilled prevention navigator, we are educating youth on how to prevent both addiction and HIV. We are encouraging healthy relationships. We are educating them where and how to get tested, where to get PrEP, and how to get help.” 

Dr. Ellen Eaton, M.D., UAB Division of Infectious Diseases

To enroll in Project Leap, contact Ashley Loftis at ashley@apcbham.org.

Get involved in Project LEAP

Addiction Prevention Coalition
Volunteer with APC for their Pop-Up Resource Fair, November 19. Photo via Addiction Prevention Coalition

There are a number of ways you can get involved in Project LEAP. APC conducts outreach in a number of ways, including outdoor events, pop-up health fairs, partnerships with AIDS Alabama and other organizations to increase HIV testing access and more.

Anyone is welcome to refer a friend or family member who is interested in learning more.

Here are some upcoming events to have on your radar:

Addiction Prevention Coalition’s Pop-Up Resource Fair

What: Project LEAP will be working on an initiative to distribute hygiene bags with harm reduction information like how to clean needles, how to use drugs safer and how to get Naloxone (Narcan). Volunteers will be needed to pack bags to distribute during the Fair. 
When: Friday, November 19
Where: 5 Points South, Birmingham, AL 35205
To volunteer, email Nikeisha Macon at nikeisha@apcbham.org.

End Heroin Birmingham Walk

What: APC will work closely with AIDS Alabama’s Game Changer Project during the End Heroin Birmingham Walk to encourage people to get HIV tested and enroll in Project LEAP. Participants will be provided with incentives for getting tested during the event.
When: March 12, 2022
Stay tuned for updates on the 2022 End Heroin Birmingham Walk via APC’s social media.

To enroll in Project Leap, contact Ashley Loftis at ashley@apcbham.org.

Learn more about Addiction Prevention Coalition and the many ways they are helping fight addiction in Birmingham by visiting their website and following them on FacebookInstagram and LinkedIn

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