Peace Arch News publishes a monthly column for the White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice addressing issues surrounding youth mental health.
In this article, George Passmore addresses an all-too-deadly problem.
It seems like for each generation of parents, some new drug comes along that heightens their fear of the threat drugs can pose to the safety of their adolescent children.
Now, along comes fentanyl; it’s odourless, tasteless, featureless and a sprinkle can be fatal.
In the first nine months of this year, fentanyl killed nearly 500 British Columbians, an increase of almost 62 per cent over 2015 that prompted a public-health emergency.
So far this year, Fraser Health Emergency departments have seen 95 suspected overdoses from South Surrey and White Rock, 65 of those at Peace Arch Hospital.
This drug is 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine. Many overdoses occur when other substances such as cocaine, Molly (MDMA or ecstasy) or cannabis contain it. Even if someone trusts their dealer, there is no true quality control; cross-contamination can happen anywhere in the distribution chain.
Now carfentanyl, more potent still, appears to be increasing across Canada.
Like all parents, I desperately want my three children and their friends to avoid this threat.
The typical tactic would be to lay out the facts about how deadly fentanyl is and “scare them straight” so they will “just say no.”
But research and parents’ own experience tell us that simply providing drug education or taking a “just say no” approach doesn’t work and can even backfire. Young people can look around and see that most of their peers who abuse substances do so without dire consequences. When kids see that their reality doesn’t match Mom and Dad’s messages, they can lose faith in us.
So let’s move beyond right/wrong, good/bad and obey/punish.
As children approach adolescence, we can use the headlines to ask them about what they see, hear and know about various substances, including fentanyl.
We can remember that most youth emerge from adolescence without experiencing problematic substance use.
We can respect that youth are experts in their own culture.
We can show genuine interest in their lives. We can encourage our teenaged kids to watch out for their friends’ well-being and to notice when substance use is escalating.
We can move beyond wishing they never take drugs to talking about harm reduction.
While this last approach can feel scary, it’s possible to talk about substance use in a way that doesn’t feel like it is encouraging risky behaviours, but acknowledges it as a part of society.
For example, we can ask youth about the concerns they share with friends about drugs and what they do to keep each other safe.
If we know our kids are drug active, we can share tips from Fraser Health on preventing overdose, such as not using alone, knowing one’s tolerance and going slowly when using. We can discuss how to recognize the signs of an overdose and how to respond, including considering when to carry Naloxone, the opiate overdose equivalent of an EpiPen.
Talking about drugs early is an even better idea.
What can make a difference later is being in tune with children while they are little, keeping a stream of conversations going on about substances – and anything else they are curious about – that evolve as they grow.
We can pay attention to what our children have to say and build their resilience by fostering a sense of belonging and encouraging healthy standards for themselves.
When it comes to responding to the threats of fentanyl, there is no quick fix. Parents’ love – even more than their fear – can be a powerful place to start.
• Parents can learn more about youth and drugs, mental health and social media at a Conversation Café on Oct. 25 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.at Semiahmoo Secondary. Please RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a parent concerned about a substance-active youth, Sources Substance Use offers a seven-session facilitated group called Recognizing Resilience, beginning Nov. 3. Register by calling 604-538-2522.
Individual, family and group counselling and referrals to residential treatment are also available at Sources. Towardtheheart.com and knowyoursource.ca are resources on how to stay safe.
George Passmore is manager of counselling and substance-use services at Sources Community Resources and a member of the White-Rock-South Surrey Local Action Team, one of 64 working as part of a provincial Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative funded by Doctors of BC and the B.C. government.