A group of concerned community leaders, parents and others in Upper Arlington recently formed a new organization aimed at preventing substance abuse and providing support and resources to those who are struggling.

A group of concerned community leaders, parents and others in Upper Arlington recently formed a new organization aimed at preventing substance abuse and providing support and resources to those who are struggling.

After months of planning, a community effort that includes the Upper Arlington Police Division, Upper Arlington schools, parents, businesses and faith-based groups culminated with the formal establishment of The Stand Project.

The group formed in response to what many see as a growing problem of substance abuse nationwide and throughout Ohio, including Upper Arlington.

Its members now hope to raise awareness about the issue, educate parents and youths about dangers and warning signs of substance abuse and to create resources to help those affected by addiction, as well as a culture of support.

"We felt like standing for something that matters was sort of our stake in the ground," said Jenny Ledman, The Stand Project's chairwoman. "Our goal is to really share information that parents may or may not be aware of, and to do what we can to support you and your kid now."

The foundations for The Stand Project started from a collaboration among Upper Arlington Police Chief Brian Quinn, UA schools Superintendent Paul Imhoff, UAHS Principal Andrew Theado and Marcie Seidel, an Upper Arlington resident and executive director of the Drug-Free Action Alliance, a statewide nonprofit group that seeks to prevent substance abuse in Ohio and beyond.

Quinn said he became interested in creating such a group because local police and law enforcement throughout the country are seeing the rise of heroin addiction and abuse of other drugs.

"It was the recognition that we have to do something in the community," he said. "We want something that's going to be sustaining."

The police division was unable to provide total drug arrest statistics for 2014 or to date so far this year, but did report that 50 percent of all juvenile offenses on record in 2014 were "drug-related."

The Stand Project referenced Ohio Department of Health studies from 2011 and 2014 that said 21 percent of high school students statewide reported using prescription drugs without a doctor's prescription, and that heroin and other opioids accounted for 66 percent of all drug overdoses in the state.

Quinn said Upper Arlington has seen a rise in abuse of heroin and other opioids. He said that's evidenced both by people who've been arrested with the drugs and through statements from people arrested for theft who said they committed their crimes to feed their addictions.

"There's definitely been an increase in heroin use over the last five years, but you're still seeing high levels of opiate use, in general," Quinn said.

He said he sees The Stand Project as a community partnership that aims to find collective solutions to preventing substance abuse through awareness. One step, he added, is to have honest discussions about drugs so people can better understand them and begin to address problems with family members and friends.

"A family will keep it a secret because there's a stigma," he said. "When they're suffering, there are other people suffering."

Imhoff said the district is looking for ways to better protect and help its students.

"Every high school in Ohio and in the U.S., public and private, is dealing with issues of drug and alcohol abuse among its students," Imhoff said. "These are not just school issues or family issues -- they are community issues.

"We must stand together as a community and do everything we can to protect our children."

Ledman, who has seen a family member struggle with a growing substance abuse issue before she identified a way to help, said The Stand Project has more than 40 members, and continues to grow.

This month, it rolled out a website, TheStandProjectUA.org, and will host a series of public forums about substance abuse and addiction programs.

"We want to be a resource and a partner, not a judgment," Ledman said. "I'm really passionate about it because I know how lonely this is.

"My motivation is to be a person who can walk with that person who is struggling."

The first of what's expected to be a growing list of forums will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, in the Hastings Middle School auditorium. It will feature Sarah Nerad, program manager for Ohio State University's Collegiate Recovery Community, who will discuss the importance of community in creating paths to success.

Other forums include:

* A presentation on "The Marijuana Experiment: Considerations of Legalization in Ohio," at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 in the Hastings Middle School Auditorium.

* "Street Smart," which will feature tips for parents to recognize use and abuse in adolescents, at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Hastings Middle School auditorium.

* "Tobacco 21," in which Dr. Robert Crane, clinical associate professor of family medicine at OSU, will discuss the movement to change the legal age to purchase tobacco products, as well as the impact nicotine and tobacco have on adolescents and pregnant women. It will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Upper Arlington Public Library, 2800 Tremont Road.