Pubdate: Wed, 28 Mar 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw, with files from Katherine Dedyna, Times Colonist
Bookmark: (Youth)


Deaths Not Accidental When Risky Behaviour Involved, Psych Prof Says

The overdose death of a University of Victoria student has sparked 
calls for better drug and alcohol education -- even for those 
students who research the devastating effects of substance abuse in school.

The UVic community was still struggling yesterday to understand how 
22-year-old Zoe Read had mistaken a bottle of clear GHB for water at 
a Victoria house party March 10. She took a large drink of the liquid 
drug -- which is mostly floor wax stripper and drain cleaner -- and 
her respiratory system failed. She died three days later.

Police say her friends had already been drinking alcohol and using 
cocaine and GHB that night.

But, on paper at least, Read appeared to be familiar with the 
high-risk nature of drug use. In her final year of biology and 
psychology classes at UVic, she was researching how drugs affect the 
adolescent brain, as part of a self-directed study course with the 
Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.

"I'm very sad about what happened to Zoe. Unfortunately, it seems to 
be something that can happen to a lot of young people her age," said 
Dr. John Anderson, a senior research fellow at the centre, who was 
Read's school-assigned mentor.

"I'm not sure necessarily young people understand how risky it can be 
in terms of the interaction of these drugs they are using, like 
alcohol, and these sedative-type drugs.

"If anything, it has made me think we need to do be doing more 
orientation and education for young people and particularly students 
at our university."

Young people are struggling to understand drugs and alcohol because 
we haven't properly explained the dangers of binge use and mixing 
substances, said Bonnie Leadbeater, psychology professor and director 
at the University of Victoria's Centre for Youth and Society.

"I think among young people there's sort of a let's-see-what-happens 
curiosity that drives some of this behaviour," she said. "I think a 
little more knowledge would be a good thing."

It's not necessarily that youths feel invulnerable, but they do enjoy 
the illicit thrill, said Leadbeater.

And the very fact they take such risks, means so-called accidents 
with substance abuse aren't really accidents at all, she said.

"The reasons they're not really accidents are because the risks get 
piled up," said Leadbeater.

"If you are in a car, you are there with other kids who have been 
drinking, and you are a drinking driver. ... every one of those 
things piles up another notch of risk, so eventually you could crash."

Often, students don't even know they have a problem with drinking and 
drug use, said Dr. Joe Parsons, manager of UVic's counselling 
services. Students come to talk about low grades or relationship 
troubles, and learn about addictions in the process, he said.

"The university is aware that drinking and drug problems are an 
increasing problem among university students," he said. "I think it 
is recognized by everyone working in student services that this is an issue."

Cracking down on substances at the source could be a potential 
solution. But Saanich police say it can be frustrating to catch GHB 
dealers because they have become adept at hiding the drug in water 
and Gatorade bottles. GHB is clear, odourless and at a glance can 
appear identical to water.

As well as designer drugs like GHB and ecstasy, local youth are also 
increasingly snorting powdered ketamine (animal tranquillizer), said 
Andrew Ivsins, a research assistant at UVic's Centre for Addictions Research.

Ivsins is working on a project that involves interviewing local drug 
users. When completed, the project is expected to more accurately 
show what drugs are being used in Victoria, how often, and by what 
type of people.
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