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Residents and Businesses Unite to Reduce Substance Abuse in Chicago’s Chinatown

Chicago’s tight-knit Chinatown enclave is the second-oldest settlement of Chinese Americans and home to over 75,000 Chinese immigrants and refugees. In an effort to develop a comprehensive program for substance abuse prevention there, the Asian Health Coalition banded together with various sectors of the Chinatown community in 2007 to create the Coalition for Asian Substance Abuse Prevention (CASAP), a grantee in the Drug Free Communities Support Program.

Using the principles outlined in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service’s Strategic Prevention Framework as a guide, CASAP aims to prevent adolescent substance use, decrease rates of alcohol and tobacco abuse among adults and youth, and build capacity at the community level to address substance abuse-related issues through a series of environmental and system-level strategies.

Retail access to alcohol is a major contributor to underage drinking, and Chinatown has a high density of stores selling alcohol, with more than 100 liquor stores in a 3-square-mile radius. Police in the area have reported a lack of knowledge and complacency among local businesses regarding proper procedures for serving alcohol. Issues such as excessive alcohol consumption, fake IDs, and serving alcohol to minors remain prevalent problems in the community.

Local assessments have demonstrated there are few resources in Chinatown for adressing this issue, and access to those available is often complicated by cultural and linguistic barriers.

Chicago Police Officer Albert Choi, a member of the Coalition for Asian Substance Abuse Prevention, conducts a Responsible Beverage Server training session in Cantonese.

The Asian Health Coalition recently partnered with the National Restaurant Association, Illinois Liquor Control Commission, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, and Chinese American Service League to create the first Responsible Beverage Server (RBS) training program in Chinese. The first training session, held in the spring of 2012, attracted over 40 local vendors and servers. Attendees were able to receive free instruction in Mandarin and Cantonese by bilingual trainers from the area who understood the needs of this unique community.

As a result of this collaboration, the National Restaurant Association will make the curriculum available throughout the Nation for Chinese-speaking sellers and servers. Increasing awareness of proper operating procedures will help ensure better compliance among local establishments with state and local laws, create a safer environment, and improve the lives of everyone in the community.