THUNDER BAY – More than 9,000 people lost their lives in Canada between January 2016 and June 2018 due to opioids. Statistics from Public Health Ontario reveal that 629 people died of opioid overdoses in the first six months of last year. That is three people in the province dying each day, and here in Thunder Bay, the rate of overdose deaths is double the provincial average.
The pain of losing loved ones to drug overdoses is devastating, and the frustration of dealing with addicts who cannot escape the grip of alcohol or drugs affects us all. Increasing costs of policing, health-care, treatment programs, accidents, and loss of production are an economic burden. Socially, jobs are lost, families broken, and children end up in care when parents are addicts. The fact is, more kids are being born with side effects of drugs and alcohol abuse and the damage is irreversible.
No one is born wanting to be an addict, but social conditions, trauma, disability, economic climate, mental health, peer pressure and inter-generational factors such as residential schools, slavery, oppression and marginalization make people vulnerable. At the Multicultural Youth Centre, we believe that prevention is better than cure — ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Early interventions to educate children about the risks of abusing alcohol, drugs, prescription pills, and raising awareness on the dangers of trafficking illicit drugs encourage abstinence. It is important for young people to learn about consequences from professionals, Elders, community service agencies, and parents to enable them to make informed decisions and wise choices. Exposing kids to addicts and victims in a controlled environment can be the shock treatment they need for a reality check to avoid falling into the same traps. Organizing forums for youths to share experiences about addictions with peers will heighten awareness of the dangers and the resources available to help them abstain.
The Regional Multicultural Youth Council (RMYC) is an advocate for the creation of peer leaders, and developing their capacity as role model mentors who lead by example. Positive peer pressure fosters good habits, manners, responsible behaviour and civil character. It makes a difference on children living in families dealing with addictions who require proper guidance. Training teams of young leaders who understand what is going on among their generation, and coaching them to be non-judgmental, show empathy, and ways to use their influence can inspire vulnerable children to be resilient and empower them to have courage to break negative cycles.
We cannot continue doing things the same way and expect different results. The rampant drug abuse, increases in drug-fueled crime and robberies, overdose deaths, damaged lives and used needles scattered everywhere will persist until we address root causes feeding the dependency. Addicts breed babies born with neonatal abstinence symptom and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders that deprive them of normalcy. This is added to our financial costs and a heavy social burden down the road.
We urgently need policies that correct existing social and economic disparities and create equal opportunities to give vulnerable populations hope for a better life. Doctors must do their part to fully assess who gets narcotics, avoid over-prescribing, and use other non-addictive painkillers wherever possible. Pharmacies should also monitor prescriptions and control refills to prevent medications from entering the black market. Harm reduction should be part of the equation to save lives and re-connect with addicts. In additions, our laws must be harsher on illicit drug manufacturers and distributors to limit street drugs in our neighbourhoods.
It is unfortunate that in a rich country like Canada, elected leaders including our own City Council underfund prevention programs. Children and youth are society’s most valuable human resource. With growing numbers of broken homes, dysfunctional families lacking parenting skills, and single mothers mired in poverty, we need to fund junior clubs to nurture children, and youth drop-in centres for kids to hang out. Communities should create more safe spaces running after-school programs with healthy snacks and extra-curricular activities supervised by caring adult role models and positive peer mentors. The strategy is to engage youth at risk and link them with significant allies to avoid normalizing the violence, criminal gangs, drug dealers and needles littered everywhere.
Mental health counsellors should be readily available to help those in crisis to cope, and prevent the traumatized from self-medicating with highly addictive substances. Professionals and peer support groups are needed to inspire those who relapse and share success stories about recovery. Above all, our publicly funded schools should be proactive and provide both social and academic education to complement our collective Canadian values and caring attitude. And, teachers need the skills to keep students in school and have more graduates. A good formal education is a strong foundation to build pathways to careers and professions that lead to a brighter and prosperous future.
Investing in prevention and focusing up-steam will prevent major problems downstream. We feel that our ideas to engage children and youth to be part of the solution to the problems they face, and providing them with relevant information to make responsible decisions will reduce the numbers of adults joining and perpetuating addiction cycle.
Yamaan Alsumadi, Harasses Singh & Heran Zhao
Regional Multicultural Youth Council, Thunder Bay
Multicultural Youth Centre
511 E. Victoria Avenue,
Thunder Bay, Ontario