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Drug use: Beginning the dialogue with youth

Abbotsford Police Const. Davin Turner talks about youth drug use. - Neil Corbett photo
Abbotsford Police Const. Davin Turner talks about youth drug use.
— image credit: Neil Corbett photo

An Abbotsford Police youth officer, a physician with some expertise in addictions, and a drug and alcohol counsellor were at Robert Bateman secondary on Thursday evening to speak with parents about drugs.

The event, billed Drug Harm Reduction for Parents, was the school's response to the death of student Cheryl McCormack, who died after taking the drug ecstasy. In attendance, and taking part in the discussion with parents, was Cheryl's older sister Shawna.

Const. Davin Turner told the 30 to 40 parents who attended about the easy availability of drugs in Abbotsford. He said students tell him they can get whatever drug they want. Ecstasy is marketed to kids, in tablets that look like candies and costing $5 each or even less.

He explained there are dial-a-dope lines where people can get drugs delivered. The numbers are readily found on business cards, or even on Facebook accounts. He said by Grade 12, some students are even getting involved with organized crime by making such deliveries to fund their own habit.

"When we stop these guys (dial-a-dope drivers), their phone doesn't stop ringing," he said. "And there is no shortage of drug lines."

Dr. Ramanjot Mangat is a physician with a focus on opiate cessation therapy and home detoxification.

She warned the audience that by the time a person who has taken ecstasy is hot, sweating profusely and anxious, the time has passed when energy drinks or any other home therapy could make a difference for them – it's time to call 911 for an ambulance.

She was asked when a parent should call 911 for a youth who is "passed out" from alcohol consumption. Mangat advised that respiration is they key – if they are having trouble keeping their airway clear, or if they cannot be roused awake, then it is time for an ambulance.

If young people are using drugs, Mangat said parents might notice depression, irritability or change in mood; a change in level of alertness; changes in sleeping patterns; new friends; young may become more secretive and have difficulty accounting for money.

While teen years are often when teens will experiment with drugs, she advised parents that their conversation about drugs should start at a much younger age. She said the website camh.net by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health will give parents the information they need to sound credible during that conversation.

Laurie Schultz, a youth drug and alcohol counsellor with the group IMPACT, gave parents some advice on how to start that conversation. She said it is important to understand a young person's motivation for drug use, and that they want to feel connected. She advised that parents not lecture, or treat drugs as a taboo issue.

"Be onside. Align yourself with them," she said.  "Be really intentional in that dialogue."

Shawna McCormack is getting involved in the conversation with youth, particularly about the dangers of using ecstasy.

She said youth are still using ecstasy, thinking that recent fatalities were caused by a "bad batch" of the drug that is now gone, or thinking that if they do only one or two tabs they will be fine. She said there is no such thing as a "good batch" of the drug.

"The message is not getting through, in my experience," said McCormack.

She will be doing presentations in schools beginning in May.

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