SOUTH PORTLAND — The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has awarded $625,000 to a local coalition that is working to prevent youth substance use.

SoPo Unite: All Ages All In is one of 698 coalitions across the country that received Drug-Free Communities grants totaling $85.9 million. The five-year grant will allow the coalition to hire a director and put real power behind its fledgling effort to fight drug and alcohol use among middle- and high-school students.

“It’s huge,” said police Lt. Frank Clark, a coalition leader. “We’ll be able to bring in somebody with evidence-based expertise to help us put into action the prevention programs that are best for South Portland.”

Planned strategies include training school staff in best practices for prevention, promoting peer-to-peer student outreach, holding neighborhood parent meetings and supporting police in their efforts to enforce underage drinking and illicit drug use laws.

The coalition formed amid an opioid crisis that has Clark keeping a weekly tally of overdoses.

There were 272 overdose deaths statewide in 2015, with the vast majority related to heroin and prescription opioids, according to the Maine Attorney General’s Office. Through the first six months of 2016, 189 people died from overdoses, up from 126 in the same period in 2015. Should that pace continue, Maine would have 378 overdose deaths this year, a record number.

SoPo Unite is one of 92 new programs to receive Drug-Free Communities funding this year, according to the White House office.

It was established during the past year with help from an existing Drug-Free Communities coalition led by The Opportunity Alliance, a community action agency in South Portland that serves Cumberland County.

SoPo Unite is made up of about 25 community members representing youth, the school department, law enforcement, parents, the faith community, City Hall and other organizations.

“The goal of the coalition is to better understand why young people are using drugs and alcohol and to engage the whole community in efforts to support our young people to make healthy choices and prevent them from using substances,” said Kara Tierney-Trevor, a coalition leader who is a social worker at South Portland High School.

Drug-Free Communities grants target youths’ use of substances such as prescription drugs, marijuana, tobacco and alcohol.

“The evidence-based prevention work led by local (Drug-Free Communities) coalitions is critically needed to reduce youth substance (use), particularly in the midst of the national prescription opioid and heroin epidemic,” Michael Botticelli, director of national drug control policy, said in a news release.

To fully address the opioid crisis, however, Congress must act to provide additional funding to make lifesaving treatment available to everyone who seeks it, Botticelli said. President Obama has called for $1.1 billion to help states expand access to treatment.

Maine is making some progress in this area. On Sept. 2, five police departments in southern Maine were awarded nearly $572,000 in state money to fund new programs to help opioid addicts find treatment and stay clean.

Portland, Westbrook, Biddeford, Saco and Sanford were notified Sept. 2 by the state Department of Public Safety that they had received the awards, which were funded through an emergency act of the Legislature passed in the spring that allotted roughly $1 million for treatment and case management.