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News (Media Awareness Project) - CN BC: Community Discussion Focuses On Drug-Use Prevention
Title:CN BC: Community Discussion Focuses On Drug-Use Prevention
Published On:2005-11-11
Source:Bowen Island Undercurrent (CN BC)
Fetched On:2008-01-15 08:45:35

In one way, Bowen Island is just like everywhere else. We have a drug
problem. But in another way, our community is unique. Described by
some as "super caring", it is small and close knit. It's separated
from the mainland but it has access to a myriad of resources and
support. All this added up means that if any community stands a chance
of tackling the issues of widespread substance abuse, it is this one.
That, along with a dollop of hope, was the overwhelming feeling
following a well-attended town hall meeting at city council a few weeks ago.

The Parks and Recreation department and the Youth Outreach Worker, Ben
Tamblyn, organized the meeting in response to a "growing groundswell
of anxiety" about the use of illicit drugs on Bowen Island. On hand
were a number of addiction counsellors, RCMP officers, therapists and
other professionals with direct knowledge about the impact of drug and
alcohol on society and closer to home, on Bowen.

Constable Richard DeJong, formally a member of the local detachment
but now working in Drug and Organized Crime Awareness Services, said
that it's about time that communities "woke up" to the realization of
the widespread and devastating impacts of drug addiction. Alcohol
continues to be the number one drug of choice for many. Marijuana use
has become normalized within society and the availability of synthetic
stimulants has increased to the point, says DeJong, that is has become
a crisis.

DeJong said that psychosis rates among marijuana users is on the rise,
due to the high THC (the main psychoactive chemical compound in
cannabis) levels in the pot sold on the streets today. Drugs like
cocaine, Ecstasy and crystal meth are relatively cheap and easy to
find. All are additive, said the officer, who leads the DARE program
at the Bowen Island Community School teaching students about the risks
of drug use.

David Wrinch, who is an active volunteer at the Bowen Island Recycling
Depot, says he has no difficulty in believing that alcohol use on
Bowen is way out of hand. He says that BIRD recycles 6000 alcohol
bottles every month. That number doesn't take into account those
returned to the store for refund, or end up in garbage dumps.

Marg McConnell, a clinician from the Vancouver Coastal Health
Concurrent Disorders Program sees kids who have mental health problems
- - such as depression and schizophrenia - coupled with substance abuse
issues. She says she has treated a number of youth from Bowen Island.
She urged the community to come up with ways to prevent kids from
getting involved in drugs.

How to do just that was the main focus of the discussion last

Awareness, education and enforcement are key components, said
Constable DeJong, who added that he is willing to go the "extra mile"
for his community. But it will take the entire community to address
the problems the police alone cannot fix, he said. Attitudes and
actions may need to change, he warned.

DeJong says he believes that the normalization of marijuana has
contributed to the acceptance of drugs by youth. Many kids who later
develop serious substance abuse problems, start with booze and pot as
early as 12 and 13 years of age. From the time they are young, they
are exposed to it, sometimes in the home, sometimes on the ferry or in
other public places.

On Bowen, children observe adults buying beer, wine and other forms of
alcohol at the general store, along with their purchase of milk,
butter and eggs. "What kind of message does that send?" asks DeJong.

Patrick Zierten, the program director at the Orchard Retreat Centre
said that 80 percent of the clients they see came from homes that
advocated the use of drugs, including alcohol. If we talk about zero
drug tolerance, said Zierten, but we do it while we are pouring
ourselves a cocktail, what kind of statement are we making?

Clear, honest and open communication between parents and their kids,
especially about topics like drug use is key, many agreed throughout
the discussion.

Lisa Shatzky, who has worked for 15 years as a family therapist, said
that she couldn't emphasize enough the need for all adults to keep
talking to their kids, from an early age. Often, she said, kids feel
compelled to use drugs to "self-medicate" because of other problems
they are experiencing. "Kids say they start [using] so 'I didn't have
to feel' or because 'I wanted to feel'." They are drawn towards
various stages of numbness to avoid other issues.

Shatzky conceded that it's not always possible to have a rapport with
your kids. But if they don't feel they can talk to you, "make sure
there's someone in their lives they can speak to."

This is an area where the nature of our community can really make a
difference, said Sally Hamel, from the North Shore Substance Abuse
Task Force. People on the island look out for each other's kids. We
give teens who are hitching a lift. Youth will engage in conversations
if you want them to, she said. It's one way of keeping a connection
with them.

While communication, coupled with education, are steps towards
prevention, agreed Zierten, he also advocated stronger parenting
measures, stricter discipline and the use of "tough love" techniques
by caregivers.

But Dr. Anthony Orcana, a local medical doctor and addiction
specialist, said that research shows that some people are genetically
predisposed to addiction. "Some kids just need to be protected."

Orcana suggested that when it comes to youth at risk, we need to
"manage their exposure, rather than expect their abstinence." Orcana
said that "we have to have a bit of compassion" and remember that
addiction is "an illness and not a moral lacking."

One of the more simple reasons Bowen youth are drawn to drug use is
because there doesn't seem to be a lot for them to do on the island,
it was concluded.

Lorinda Strang, a parent of teens said her kids have complained
bitterly about boredom and the fact that there's nothing happening
locally. What is going on are plenty of parties, which feature illegal
substances and various types of alcohol.

"We can do something about this," said Strang, if we can only figure
out the activities that will entice youth to participate.

Jeff Scouten, a local lawyer and parent, pointed out that youth were
consulted as to what they wanted. Their answer was unequivocal - a
skateboard park. But that was eight years ago and the community still
hasn't delivered.

"How many kids have gone into treatment since they asked for a
skateboard park?" asked one parent from the audience. "How many more
kids will become messed up on drugs before we get one?"

Orcana noted that an economic investment in youth will pay off, as for
every dollar spent now saves $7 that would be spent on health services
dealing with addiction. His call for the municipality to come up with
cash to finance activities for teens was enthusiastically supported by
the audience.

Tamblyn admitted that it's been tough to come up with engaging
activities for teens without a sufficient budget. As the youth worker,
he liaises between youth and various institutions on and off island
and sets up programming at the teen centre. His work is primarily
oriented towards prevention and he says he's found success in teaching
life skills that build self-esteem and help kids gain a sense of who
they are.

But outings that would draw teens, like paintball games or treks to
skateboard parks on the mainland, have been limited due to funds.
While Tamblyn's 30 hour per week position is paid for by the
municipality, in the past, the auxiliary worker's salaries and
programming costs have come from monies raised by the Teen Centre Society.

Unfortunately, that board has suffered from a dearth of volunteers
over the past years. Despite attempts at recruiting new members, no
parents have stepped up to fill the openings. Tamblyn says at this
point, there's only one active member remaining.

While the municipality, through Parks and Recreation, helped out with
program funding this year, it's uncertain where the money, with no
board to raise funds, will come from next year.

Officer DeJong cautioned the audience that it's not enough to throw
money at the problem. But the willingness of individuals to create
change, to get personally involved and to move forward with "passion"
could go a long way in helping out the kids on Bowen, he said. The
next step will be to continue the dialogue, education of the parents
and youth and to plan concrete action on how to shift the trend
towards drug use.
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