Pubdate: Sat, 10 Feb 2018
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Mark Pancer
Page: A11


Fentanyl. The drug is one that most people never even heard of until a
few years ago. Now it strikes fear into the hearts of public health
officials, youth workers, parents and others. A few grains of
fentanyl, often mixed with another recreational drug without the
user's knowledge, can cause death within minutes. It has caused
thousands of overdose deaths in Canada and tens of thousands in the
U.S., and those numbers are rising rapidly.

How have we dealt with this crisis? The primary strategy has been to
supply naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of fentanyl, as
widely as possible to police officers, health care providers and
others who are likely to encounter people who have overdosed. The use
of naloxone is a "harm reduction strategy", intended to reduce the
negative consequences of using fentanyl, and it has saved many lives.
But it is not enough. Overdose deaths from fentanyl continue to
increase even after widespread distribution of naloxone kits. We
desperately need another strategy. But what kind of strategy would

The approach with the greatest likelihood of success is prevention. We
need to look for ways to prevent people - especially young people -
from using drugs in the first place. And in order to be effective in
our prevention efforts we must search for the root causes of drug use.
Why is it that people, especially young people, use drugs in the first
place? According to research by American psychologist Harvey Milkman
and others, one of the core reasons that young people engage in risky
behaviour such as drug-taking is for the stimulation it provides. What
if young people were provided with other easily-accessible,
non-harmful means of stimulation? Would this reduce the use of drugs
and other risky behaviours for stimulation? Research suggests that it

One of the most striking examples of prevention in action is an
initiative called the Iceland Project. In the late 1990s, binge
drinking among Icelandic youth was out of control. Surveys of 14 and
15-year-olds showed that over 40 per cent of them had been drunk
within the previous month. But the surveys also showed that youth who
were involved in organized activities at least three times a week were
much less likely to have become drunk. The developers of the Iceland
Project reasoned that if they provided easily accessible, inexpensive,
healthy alternatives to drinking and other risky behaviours, they
could reduce drunkenness substantially. Consequently, a core component
of the Iceland Project involved providing significantly more funding
for recreational programs for youth. In the capital city of Reykjavik,
every family was given a Leisure Card for each of their children,
worth $450, that could be spent on recreational activities.

So what happened? The impact of the program was dramatic. By 2016 the
number of youth who had been drunk in the previous month had dropped
from 42 per cent to only 5 per cent. Marked reductions were also seen
in the use of marijuana and cigarettes. Instead of young people
congregating drunk on street corners, they were now playing badminton
or ping-pong, or participating in clubs for dance, art and music.

Similar programs have been implemented in Canada, to deal with a range
of problems among youth. Over 35 years ago, community psychiatrist Dan
Offord initiated a program called PALS (Participate and Learn Skills)
in a low-income neighbourhood in Ottawa, in an attempt to reduce a
high rate of delinquency. Funding was provided to increase the
recreational opportunities for young people, and active recruitment
efforts were made to get them to participate. Over 70 per cent of
neighbourhood youth took part in these activities during the 32 months
the program was in operation. Again, the impact of the program was
dramatic. There was a more-than 50 per cent reduction in the number of
police charges against youth while the program was in operation,
compared to an increase in charges against youth in a low-income
comparison neighbourhood that didn't get the program. The total cost
of the program was less than $100,000 a year. The savings in terms of
reduced police and court costs were! more than double that.

There are now many studies showing that young people who are engaged
in activities such as community service, sports, music, and leadership
programs are significantly less likely to use drugs, drink, smoke and
commit crimes. We need more initiatives like the Iceland Project or
PALS that provide opportunities for young people to engage in these
kinds of positive, healthy activities. Some people ask if we can
afford to mount these kinds of prevention initiatives in Canadian
municipalities and provinces. The evidence tells us that we can't
afford not to.

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Mark Pancer is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier 
University. His research focuses on civic engagement in young people, 
and the impact that this engagement can have on their health and well-being.
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