The community is working together to become better informed and better able to address the issue of substance abuse within the district.
A “Community Conversation on Substance Abuse” was hosted by the Substance Abuse Prevention Team (SAPT) at La Place Rendez-Vous last Wednesday to better inform parents, the general public, and staff of local organizations on the topic.
“It went really well,” said SAPT member and event organizer Caroline Goulding.
“We generated some really excellent conversation and the community had a lot of really great ideas and important things to say.”
Around 50 people attended and the session started with panelist Shannon Grynol of the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) answering a question about the health risks associated with cannabis for a developing brain under the age of 25.
She said when it comes to youth using cannabis, there are a variety of short-term and potential long-term health risks associated with functional and structural changes to the brain.
“Most of these health risks are reversible, [but] there is potential for certain people that they are not and some of them can last for weeks to months,” Grynol explained.
She said some of those health risks include decreased memory and concentration, lowered IQ, poor coordination and mood disturbances, as well as mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, psychosis, and schizophrenia.
Those who have a family history of schizophrenia face the greatest mental health risk.
“For adolescent who start using cannabis there is a one in six chance of developing cannabis use disorder, so that's pretty significant,” Grynol noted.
The younger a person starts using cannabis, the greater their risk is of developing an addiction to the drug.
When asked if the “addictive nature” of cannabis can raise the risk of other drug addictions for young people who use it, she said overall the gateway hypothesis has not been proven.
“When we're talking about casual use of cannabis, there is not substantial evidence to suggest that it would lead to use of others substances,” Grynol explained.
“It really is a multi-layered issue, there's no one specific reason why a person starts using substances and why they choose to use other substances.”
A Fort High student who attended the Community Conversation noted that adults sometimes have misconceptions around youth being peer pressured into smoking cigarettes or cannabis.
She said students aren't necessarily pressuring one another directly but they often feel a sense of “self peer pressure” when hanging out and being the only person in the group not having a smoke or drink.
“Like when your just driving around with your friends and they pull out their juuls or their smokes . . . they say, 'I'm doing this, and you don't have to but I'm going to, so you kind of feel like you should too,'” the student explained.
Many teens want to fit in, so they end up smoking or using a substance to make the situation less awkward.
The Fort High student also noted that lots of people in the high school say they use tobacco or cannabis because their isn't a lot to do in the town.
She said some kids like to go to the skate park but it's pretty “worn down” and there's certain times of the day when it's not very safe because shady individuals hang around it.
“There's the movie theatres across but it's cheaper to buy a gram of weed than it is to go across to the movies and kids just find that easier,” the student noted.
When asked what she'd like to see in town for high school students, she suggested a youth centre or Boys and Girls Club like they have in Thunder Bay—somewhere where kids can play ping pong, air hockey, pool, arcade games, and engage in other fun activities after school or on the weekend.
“It's just a big place for kids to hang out and be around each other and socialize while doing multiple little things,” the student said.
Barb Duguay of the Valley Adult Learning Centre attended the event and said she's seen several of these youth centres which are a great resource for teens.
“They're very successful. The kids come, they can draw on the walls, they have music going—it's just a place for them to come and be together,” she noted.
“I've viewed about three of them in Minneapolis and they're very successful, that's what they should have here in town," Duguay added. "We have soup kitchens—have a youth centre.”
When discussing protective factors, which are the positive influences that decrease the likelihood of individuals using substances, attendees mentioned things like “school protections.”
These include school groups, activities or sports that help kids experience a sense of belonging.
Creating a dialogue at home was another important protective factor attendees reflected on during the session.
Making the home a safe place where kids can talk about whatever, whenever they need to is important for making them feel like they belong.
When kids don't feel like they belong in their own home, how are they suppose to feel like the belong at school or with a group of friends and how they are suppose to have the confidence to say no to substance use, one attendee said.
At the event, Project Sunset and the Fort Frances First Responders were two local groups that were lauded as good protective factors for teens.
Meanwhile, panelist Christy Herr of the NWHU shared information about opioid use during the event, which she characterized as “very common” in Northwestern Ontario.
“The Rainy River District had amongst the highest rates of opioid prescription across Ontario among younger adults in 2016,” she said.
“More than 12 percent of Canadian adults used opioids in 2017, and approximately 5.5 percent of these patients that use the opioids became addicted.”
The longer someone uses opioids, and the more improperly they are taken, the more likely someone is to develop an addiction.
Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is the “rescue medication” that can temporarily reverse the effects of opioids, Herr noted.
“It starts to work within 1-5 minutes," she said. "We recommend that if you see no action at approximately two minutes than you give a second dose of Naloxone.”
“It is definitely very important to call 9-1-1 prior to administering naloxone or right shortly after,” Herr added.
Naxolone kits can be accessed at any of the pharmacies in town, Ontario Addiction Treatment Centre (OATC) or at the NWHU.
“It is free to access and the training is just a few minutes,” Herr remarked
She also touched on crystal meth use at the Community Conversation.
Herr said some of the more visible signs of meth use include picking at the skin or hair, substantial weight loss, dilated pupils, rapid eye movement, twitching, outbursts, mood swings, hallucinations, and irregular sleeping patterns.
“Sometimes we find those individuals who are addicted to crystal meth, they end up staying awake for days or even weeks at a time,” Herr remarked.
Some of the long-term effects of crystal meth use are rotten teeth—which is more commonly known as “meth mouth”—as well as skin wounds from scratching, paranoia, and confusion.
Meanwhile, Goulding said she hopes the Community Conversation will be the start of an active dialogue in the community about ways to combat substance abuse.
“We're using this as a starting point," she noted. ”We are intending to run more events in the future and keep the conversation going.
“We're really thankful for the people who came out and engaged in the conversation and we're hoping people will come out in the future,” Goulding added.