YOUTH WELLNESS: When youth turn to drugs in Maple Ridge
As overdose-related deaths are on the rise, Maple Ridge services and advocates are looking to create strategies of prevention in the community.
Following a recent case of fentanyl-related overdoses that put nine young people in hospital in a matter of 20 minutes in Delta, it was made clear to Strong Kids Team co-chair Susan Carr that fentanyl is reaching far and wide across the region, bearing no mind to age.
According to Fraser Health statistics presented at a recent forum organized by the team, Maple Ridge will see a predicted total of 10 more fatal overdoses by the end of 2016, in addition to the 20 deaths that have already hit close to home for residents.
In September, the community saw another two overdose-related deaths.
Nineteen to 29 year olds account for about 26 per cent of all overdose deaths in B.C. from January to August, compared to just under 17 per cent in 2015.
Overdose deaths of 10 to 18 year olds have nearly doubled, from 1.1 per cent in 2015, to 2.1 per cent in 2016.
And in order to combat growing death tolls, local service providers and advocates aren’t acting flat-footed.
Annika Polegato, executive director of Alouette Addictions and Services, told The TIMES roughly 1,000 local youth walk through their doors each year.
These youth clients are using the array of services offered, from one-on-one counselling, to support groups, and family counselling.
And the most common addictions for youth are alcohol and marijuana, Polegato said.
But Alouette Addictions’ outreach workers aren’t waiting for youth (up to 24 years old) in need to come to them, Polegato explained.
Specialized outreach worker Scott Williams “goes out into the community,” and works with youth and adults who otherwise wouldn’t access services, she explained.
Meanwhile, Dawn Taylor works in the high schools, alongside school counsellors, and focuses on prevention, education and connecting youth to necessary services.
Taylor receives references from counsellors, principals, youth themselves, or their friends.
The idea is to create an outreach network for youth to have a place to turn, including through the Ridge Meadows Youth Wellness Centre.
“Everybody is connected,” Polegato said.
According to Fraser Health’s clinical specialist Mark Goheen, the reasons kids try drugs are far and few between.
Kids are bored, and they want to have fun, he told the crowd at the fentanyl forum.
But similarly, youth can be struggling with mental health, anxiety, depression, stress, or bullying, Polegato said.
And to quote Goheen: kids are curious.
The concern for Carr is that now more than ever, a one-time curiosity can end in death.
“They can die because of one choice,” Carr explained.
Youth wellness plays a big role in youth addition, said Carr, a Maple Ridge resident who is also a school trustee.
School counsellors are juggling caseloads of up to 200 students, according to local school district reports.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board previously increased funding to allow more hours for staff.
“We heard the need loud and clear,” she said.
Still, waitlists for community counsellors are lengthy, Carr noted.
As someone who’s been through fentanyl recovery with a family member, “in the community... help is difficult to find.”
Carr is advocating for Naloxone kits to be available to staff in all high schools across the province. On Wednesday night, the local school board unanimously agreed to send a letter to the ministry of education, health, and family and children development asking the province for action.
“If fentanyl is in pot and cocaine and we know youth are using these drugs – it would follow that we need to be prepared for an overdose to happen during school,” Carr said.
In the community, Alouette Addictions has handed out 160 kits to active users, in addition to 80 more passed out by Fraser Health officials.
As information is confidential, Polegato wasn’t able to confirm how many kits have been handed out to youth, she said.
Kits and training on how to use them are free through Alouette Addictions but only available to active users.
Carr’s thought is that if kits are in the schools, it will create awareness among staff, provide information of what an overdose looks like, and the appropriate way to respond.
“We need a best practice strategy,” she said.
But for Carr it’s not just about the security of having opioid-combating kits on school campuses.
Carr wants to see a proper strategy in the community for prevention.
“A conversation needs to be had,” she said.
In the meantime, Narcan kits, are available for over-counter-purchases at drug stores and pharmacies across the community.
For those who do purchase a kit, and would like training on how to use it, Alouette Addictions offers training, free of charge.
Naloxone vials and kits are available:
• Shoppers Drug Mart (vials only)
20395 Lougheed Hwy.
22441 Dewdney Trunk Rd.
19150 Lougheed Hwy.
• Golden Ears Pharmacy (vials only)
22838 Lougheed Hwy.
• Pharmasave Cottonwood (Narcan kit)
12005 238B St.
• Safeway’s Pharmacy (Narcan kit)
20201 Lougheed Hwy.