Pubdate: Sat, 17 Jun 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


Educating teenagers about the safety of recreational drug use is an
age-old conundrum for Canada, one at the forefront as the country
pushes ahead with legalizing marijuana by next year

The ad shows four pretty young women laughing as their convertible
rips past the picturesque Rockies on a warm sunny day, the driver -
eyes narrowed slightly - joyfully passing a doobie to her friend.

In the next one, a hip young guy with high-top dreadlocks pinches a
smouldering joint (backwards) in one hand and adjusts the car stereo
with his other as his date leaves her house and approaches in a red
party dress.

Beside both these scenes is a mirror image where a bottle of beer
replaces the pot. The reader is hit with the tag line "Spot the
difference: Behind the wheel, there isn't one. Driving drunk or high
is driving impaired."

When Alberta rolled out its $167,000 campaign against driving stoned
last winter, these stylish animated PSAs were roundly condemned on
social media as part of an outdated "Just say no!" approach to
educating youth that many associated with the socalled War on Drugs,
which by most estimations has failed on multiple fronts since
launching a half century ago.

"What geniuses decided stereotyping a drug-using black guy picking up
a white blond woman was a good idea?" Cris LaBossiere asked on Twitter
in a typical response to the ad campaign.

Getting through to teens in a way that does not either stop the
conversation dead or kick off a laughing fit is an age-old - but
especially important - conundrum as Canada pushes ahead with
legalizing recreational pot by next year. The Liberal government has
said cutting down on teen use is a core priority, and educators,
experts and parents are searching for approaches that give young
people the facts about the responsible use of a drug that is already
easily accessible while still underscoring the dangers of consuming
too much.

Young Canadians consistently rank among the heaviest users of cannabis
in the world despite the long-standing prohibition and decades of
scare tactics aimed at preventing the use of illicit substances.

"The youth we've spoken to say, 'We want real information and we want
evidence we can use, we don't want to just know the worst outcome, and
when it comes to cannabis, there is a real gap [in information]," says
Rebecca Haines-Saah, an expert on youth substance use from the
University of Calgary's school of medicine.

This nuanced approach - based on answering questions from young people
- - is already proving more effective than campaigns warning "this is
your brain on drugs," said Ms. Haines-Saah, who, as a young actor on
the cult TV series Degrassi High, once portrayed a nerdy teen who gets
paranoid and anxious after smoking pot with her friends.

Ms. Haines-Saah has consulted the Calgary police on the formation of a
new framework for substance use education, and Alberta, as part of its
ongoing public consultation on legalization, is also looking for
better ways to prevent youth from using drugs and alcohol.

The recent Alberta campaign only highlighted the worst-case scenarios
for teens who toke and drive, she said.

It would have been more useful, she added, to provide more practical
information such as to wait at least three to four hours to get behind
the wheel after getting high, or that THC - pot's psychoactive
compound - can stay in the bloodstream for several days and still
indicate intoxication in police tests.

In Vancouver, many parents are concerned that their children could
fall victim to an overdose of opioids, which killed almost a thousand
people in the province last year, including a dozen minors.

At a forum for parents and teens on the city's west side last week,
the head of the Vancouver Police Department's youth services division
told a few dozen people that the three most important things students
must understand are: they never know who makes their drugs, no tests
can prove a street drug is safe, and that if they overdose there is no
guarantee the antidote, naloxone, will save them.

At the Vancouver School Board, Art Steinmann has pioneered a program
that gives students these facts but also takes a different approach to
preventing substance abuse and reducing the harm of using drugs and

For example, ahead of this year's 4/20 celebration - a day some
students ditch classes to celebrate stoner culture with tens of
thousands at Vancouver's Sunset Beach - a bulletin was sent to educate
parents on the origins of the protest and how to have a thoughtful
conversation about problematic pot use by asking their kids open-ended
questions such as: Does weed being "natural" mean it can't harm you?
Why do you think some people choose not to smoke pot?

Students were also told if they were attending the event they should
avoid eating cannabis products, which can lead to overdosing; talk
instead of toke if they are worried or sad, because cannabis can
worsen those feelings; pay attention to their surroundings at all
times and don't drive; and to drink water and stay with friends in a
safe place until the effects wear off if they are feeling too high.

In Vancouver schools, students most often have problems with alcohol
and cannabis, then tobacco and, to a much lesser extent, pills and
powders such as Xanax and MDMA, Mr. Steinmann said.

The move towards harm reduction extends to those who have already
consumed: Instead of the traditional suspension of three to five days,
Vancouver students caught getting high or drunk at school attend a
specialized three-day program.

There, along with a handful of their peers, they start by talking
about their goals, emotions and current situations, according to Mr.
Steinmann, an addictions professional who started working for the
school board just over a decade ago.

"And, of course we discuss with them issues related to substance use,
including having them explore whether drug use may be creating any
problems in their lives," he said.

Afterwards, staff follow up with the students and their

In interviews conducted 10 weeks after participating in the program,
12 per cent of the students who said they had used cannabis at least
once a week reported they were using it less, and 34 per cent said
they could easily avoid using alcohol and drugs if they wanted,
according to a 2009-2013 audit of the program.

Guinivere Wilcox, 17, says being exposed as a young child to her
father using medical cannabis taught her a fact-based approach to
understanding drugs.

She recalls her dad Jason politely asking her to go play in another
room so he could smoke in their home multiple times a day to blunt the
side effects of the anti-retroviral medication he was on for an
auto-immune disease.

She recalls that in Grade 5, about a decade ago, she came home from
school and called him a criminal after a drug abuse resistance
education (DARE) presentation.

"He was so mad, he called the school almost immediately and then he
sat me down and said 'what I do is not a bad thingÂ… I'm not a
criminal, I'm not a drug dealer on the street, I'm a medical patient
and this is the medicine I need that's kept me alive to raise you,'"
she said.

"He's never kept me in the dark. He's always been straight up about
his illness and cannabis because he doesn't want to lie to me about it
and he doesn't want me to be curious about it."

She says rather than raising a pothead, her dad, a well-known advocate
who crowd-sourced the legal fees for a Federal Court case that
enshrined a patient's right to grow cannabis at home, has demystified
the drug to the point that it is probably one of the uncoolest things
a teenager could do.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt