Pediatricians call overdoses among young people a public health emergency. What will end it? – National

Most parents a*sume that drug addiction and overdoses are not an immediate threat to their children, says Chantal Vallerand, executive director of Drug Free Kids Canada (DFKC), but studies showing a growing crisis say otherwise.

As students prepare to return to school – where peer influence is rampant – prevention organizations are urging parents, guardians and schools to take action against the growing risk of substance abuse among young people.

“Parents don’t think their children are at risk. It’s still someone else’s child. But it is more important than ever to take preventive measures,” Vallerand told PKBNEWS.

A 2022 Canadian Pediatric Surveillance Program (CPSP) report of 1,000 pediatricians called drug overdoses in children and adolescents a public health emergency.

The number of young people suffering from serious, life-threatening overdoses is increasing and has become the leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 18 in Western Canada, the report says.

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Stimulant overdoses were the most frequently reported, followed by sedative overdoses, then opioid overdoses.

A DFKC survey found that only 11 per cent of Ontario high school students admit to using opioids or prescription drugs recreationally, but Vallerand warns the risk remains high.

“It’s not the vast majority, it’s not the substance of choice for initiation…but things could still go wrong, like the statistics we’re seeing on overdoses,” Vallerand said.

Vallerand says parents or any trusted adults who have a relationship with a child play a critical role in limiting the risk of harm to young people when it comes to substance use.

The DFKC’s annual tracking survey interviews parents and children separately. Each year, children name their parents as their most trusted source of information, followed by school and then by their peers.

‘Just say no’ approach is outdated, experts say

Vallerand says the high-handed “say no” approach to educating young people about substance use is outdated because it’s rooted in the belief that abstinence is a solution.

Instead, the DFKC aims to help educate and empower parents to normalize the conversation, she says.

“We offer parents to have early discussions, informed discussions, approaching the question with curiosity rather than lecturing their child,” Vallerand said.

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Vallerand adds that while she is all for supporting young people who already suffer from addiction, prevention is important.

“Let’s make sure we equip children to make informed decisions about their health. When they go to a party and they’re offered a drug, you want them to make the best decisions for themselves,” she said.

“It’s not easy, it can be intimidating, but we really encourage parents to start the conversation early. »

This year’s follow-up survey also found that 49 per cent of children who admitted to using prescription drugs recreationally bought them at home.

As part of National Medicine Drop-off Month in August, the DFKC encouraged parents to limit access to prescription medicines at home, ensuring they are stored safely or discarded if they do not are no longer needed. Safe disposal means, for example, taking medicines back to the pharmacy rather than throwing them down the toilet or in the trash.

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Schools are another reliable source of information about substance use. DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) began in 1983 and offers programs to schools around the world aimed at providing children with the sk**ls they need to live healthy and safe lives.

A ten-week program offered in Canada and abroad is I keep it TRUE, taught by law enforcement officers rather than teachers. It covers problem solving, risk, peer pressure, bullying and stress.

“It’s basically about empowering young people to use their brains, to educate themselves, to become more confident…more resilient, so that when…they’re under peer pressure to do something or try a drug, they have more confidence and more sk**ls to resist,” Shawn Evans, a retired Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer and member of DARE Canada, told PKBNEWS.

A three-year multi-longitudinal study of DARE programs I keep it TRUE The UNC Greensboro and Prevention Strategies program found statistically significant reductions in the prevalence of alcohol use, smoking, and vaping among students who benefited from the program. According to the report, this measure was entirely successful in preventing marijuana use.

ABC’s of Youth Substance Use is another project aimed at building adult capacity with young people.

The initiative is funded by the BC government and promotes evidence-based approaches to youth substance use education in BC schools.

The ABC refers to autonomy, belonging and sk**ls. According to program co-lead Ash Amlani, ABCs are essential springboards for promoting youth well-being, by preventing, delaying and reducing the harms a*sociated with substance use.

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“Much of our focus and attention on the ABC is actually on all the adults in the school building, as well as the administrators who surround and support young people as they grow” , Amlani told PKBNEWS.

In particular, the project supports schools by giving them the opportunity to direct parents to tools and resources on substance use among young people.

“Sometimes the people in the school building become the bridge between the two systems,” said Amlani, who is also the former harm reduction epidemiologist for the BC Center for Disease Control.

“A lot of times teachers or principals are called upon to support parents by talking to them about what’s happening to their child,” she said.

Amlani echoed Vallerand’s sentiments on the “say no” tactic in discussions about substance use, saying it limits conversation.

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“When you say no, well, what if I’m in an environment where someone else said yes? What should I do in this situation? So we want to create that sense of security. Being able to have these open and frank conversations (is part of it),” she said.

What drives young people to seek out substances?

Amlani says substance use is sometimes presented as a coping mechanism for some young people. While substances aren’t often the first thing they turn to, for some it becomes an essential part of their coping ability.

“After COVID, I would say it’s a very common experience. Young people have really struggled with their mental health. Some suffer from social anxiety…sleep patterns have been severely disrupted. So there are a lot of things young people face,” Amlani said.

In a 2022 study by the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSUA), only one in four young people aged 16 to 24 reported having excellent or very good mental health.

Fifty-one percent of participants reported problematic cannabis use. 37 percent reported increased alcohol consumption.

Wellstream is another initiative to better support youth substance use through the school system.

Based in British Columbia and part of the Canadian Center for Innovation in Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use, the initiative was launched in response to the need for research and programs to address the upstream issues that affect children’s mental health and substance use. .

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Dr. Emily Jenkins is Head of Research at Wellstream. She says there have been a number of initiatives to address the overdose crisis, the leading cause of death among young people in British Columbia, but there is a lack of other interventions that “cover the full spectrum of substance use”. This includes initiatives aimed at mitigating crime and preventing the early onset of substance use.

Jenkins points out that a large proportion of young people who have died in British Columbia from overdoses in recent years have been dealing with the child welfare system.

“What this tells us is that this problem is particularly concentrated among young people who are experiencing or have a history of trauma, violence, poverty, racism, the complex relationships between these issues,” Jenkins told PKBNEWS.

“In order to meet the needs where the needs are concentrated, we need to take approaches that are really relevant to the underlying issues that influence substance use,” she said.

Jenkins says treatment beds are important, but it’s also essential to pay attention to how governments provide safe and secure housing and meaningful education and employment opportunities.

“Without this, we will continue to tackle this problem, which is not an acceptable solution,” she said.

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