Pubdate: Fri, 04 Dec 2015
Source: Coast Reporter (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Coast Reporter
Author: Christine Wood


Sunshine Coast Youth Outreach Program

The number of Coast youth abusing drugs and alcohol has jumped by 60
per cent since last year, and cocaine is fast becoming the drug of
choice for teens, according to reports from the Sunshine Coast Youth
Outreach Program.

"One of the main drugs used by kids on the Coast now is cocaine and
it's almost surpassing pot as a recreational drug because pot is so
common now for kids that it's become like a daily thing for them. So
they're looking to harder drugs like cocaine or hallucinogens like
mushrooms and acid," outreach program coordinator Tonya Ste. Marie

"What's kind of scary is that if I didn't work for youth outreach, I
would never really think this is going on."

Between January and October of 2015, a total of 596 Coast youth were
identified as abusing drugs and alcohol by the outreach program run
through Sunshine Coast Community Services, which sees workers connect
with youth in schools and in the community on evenings and weekends.

While the program classifies youth as those aged 13 to 23, Ste. Marie
said the vast majority of contacts are made with teenagers.

Over the past year, Ste. Marie said she's noticed a disturbing trend
with teen girls aged 13 to 15 hanging out with Grade 12 boys and adult
men who offer drugs like cocaine for sexual favours.

"I know quite a few girls in Grade 8 who are hanging out with Grade
12s and that's just the norm, that's what they do. So with that they
are being exposed to these harder drugs or even sexual things," Ste.
Marie said.

"Girls are getting texts from guys saying 'we'll give you some drugs
if you give a blow job,' or something like that. I talk to girls in
Grade 7, 8, 9 all the time and they say 'yah, I keep getting these
texts from guys and they say if you don't come to the party and have
sex with me then they're going to tell their friends' and it's always
these spirals where kids get exploited in one way or another, whether
it's through social media or texting."

Ste. Marie said instances of sexual exploitation documented by
outreach workers have risen 45 per cent from last year, with a total
of 367 local youth affected by sexual exploitation between January and
October of 2015.

Ste. Marie isn't sure to what to attribute the rise in drug and
alcohol use and sexual exploitation, but she said it's similar to
trends playing out in the Lower Mainland right now.

She sees a need for more adult education on the issue and encourages
open dialogue between parents and children to help curb the trend.

"A mentorship-style talk works better than a lecture," she

School District No. 46 (SD46) is aware of the issue and doing what it
can to educate students through a variety of drug and alcohol and
sexual health programs, said Vanessa White, director of instruction
and student support services in SD46.

In addition to the sexual health and drug and alcohol education
students get as part of the regular curriculum in SD46, White said
students benefit from special workshops and presentations on the
issues at various times throughout the year, to which parents are also
often invited.

In addition to education focused on drugs, alcohol and sexual health,
SD46 offers programming that looks at mental health issues and the
reasons that a child might turn to drugs or alcohol.

"We know that a lot of kids are turning to drugs and alcohol as a way
of coping with mental health situations that they're dealing with.
It's all tied together, and if we want to work on one, we have to work
on both," White said.

In addition to the teaching teens get at school is the support of
school counsellors and the District's mental health and addiction
councillor Frances Ardron, who portions her time between high schools
on the Coast.

White said the school counsellors and Ardron are available for
students to ask questions and access resources at school, and they can
support parents as well.

Parents can ask for a meeting with either Ardron or their school
counsellor via their school principal, White said.

"We are most definitely doing our due diligence and we're trying to do
more," she noted.

While she doesn't dispute the numbers reported by the youth outreach
program, she questioned if things were really getting worse or if they
were actually getting better, despite the figures.

"Are we seeing an increase because students are more aware of the
supports that are out there and so are coming out and talking about it
more? That would be a good question I would like to ask the kids. Was
this happening before and they were just going underground with it?
Maybe they're not shouldering it so much and they're bringing it to
adults who can help now," White said.

"That could be one of the positive impacts of some of the education
that we've been doing is that kids know things aren't okay and they
need help, and they know who they can go to for help."

If you are a youth who needs to talk to someone, you can contact the
youth outreach program confidentially at 604-741-1129.

The youth outreach program is also on Facebook as SC Youth Outreach
and on Twitter  ---
MAP posted-by: Matt