Martha’s Vineyard is set to become a laboratory for social change, as a broad coalition of Islanders prepares to launch a public health campaign aimed at combating the abuse of alcohol and drugs — both among young people and adults.

“What we’re trying to do is nothing less than changing the culture of the Island,” said Chip Coblyn, a member of the Substance Use Disorder coalition that formed on the Island in 2016.

The broad-based group of Island officials, medical professionals, clergy, community advocates and families has been meeting monthly for more than two years to seek solutions for the Vineyard, where 22 per cent of adults reported binge or excessive drinking in a recent national health survey, and vaping has become the high school’s leading disciplinary offense.

“We pinpointed the problem as we see it, which is just an overarching feeling of permissiveness where drug and alcohol use is concerned,” said Mr. Coblyn, who is helping to spearhead the new public health initiative. He said he believes the permissive culture took root decades ago when Martha’s Vineyard saw an influx of young people seeking alternative lifstyles.

“It’s something we think sprang up in the late 1960s and the 1970s, and it was cool then, but it’s so uncool now that we’re trying to break that habit,” he said.

It’s a tall order, admitted Mr. Coblyn and Mary Korba, communications manager for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and a fellow member of the Substance Use Disorder coalition.

“This has to be a communitywide effort,” Ms. Korba said.

To enlist support from all walks of Island life, the coalition is partnering with a national public health marketing nonprofit, Public Good Projects, for a $1 million, 18-month campaign that begins next month.

More than $500,000 has already been raised, Ms. Korba said, including a $125,000 grant from the Tower Foundation.

Public Good Projects, which has successfully targeted sugary drinks, tobacco use, school wellness and vaccines in other communities, is also donating some of its time, she said.

Beginning next month, a team from Public Good Projects will come to the Vineyard to gather information through in-depth personal interviews, focus groups and a community survey. They also will start filming for a documentary.

Planned as the second phase of the campaign, the documentary will portray the insights the team gathered on the Island, Ms. Korba said.

The documentary is expected to run an hour or more in length. Its release next spring will usher in the third, most public phase of the campaign.

Ms. Korba said she hopes local theatres and film clubs will screen the documentary, which will be supported by a website and social media accounts.

“Their whole method is so incredibly interesting,” Ms. Korba said of Public Good Projects.

“It’s a gradual process of shifting social norms. The messaging is tailored. They’re not speaking at you; they’re meeting you where you are and entering the conversations, and a lot of it is done through social media.”

Mr. Coblyn said the Substance Use Disorder coalition and Public Good Projects are looking for what they call influencers, especially younger Islanders, to share the word that abstinence is cool.

Old-fashioned messaging is on the table as well.

“We’re even thinking of things as analog as lawn signs,” Mr. Coblyn said. “We’re trying to be as creative and wide open as we can.”

Ms. Korba said the campaign with Public Good Projects is just the beginning.

“Culture change takes time,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to sustain the effort.”

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