By Samantha Johnson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 30, 2023.
Earlier this month, SafeLink and the Medicine Hat Drug Coalition were invited to attend the wellness fairs at local high schools. SafeLink was asked to provide harm reduction material and the Drug Coalition, in collaboration with Red Cross, was asked to offer nasal naloxone training, an antidote to opioid poisoning.
After a misunderstanding around a pamphlet on drug safety provided by SafeLink at Medicine Hat High School, both SafeLink and the Drug Coalition were uninvited to the Crescent Heights wellness fair. According to a member of the latter group, the result left students untrained in nasal naloxone, nor supplied with a kit, and lacking the ability now to help save a life – a circumstance they are more likely to encounter than many assume.
“If I was a parent eight or so years ago, before my son died on of fentanyl poisoning, and I saw those pamphlets were being handed out at school, before I had a better understanding of substance use, I might have been concerned about that as well,” said Kym Porter of the Medicine Hat Drug Coalition. “I think it’s because at some point we are uneducated or misinformed about using substances that are still not legalized.”
Porter went on to say several drugs are now determined to be ‘OK’ to use, such as cannabis and alcohol or those received through prescription, while others, such as those considered illicit, are surrounded by negativity and stigma.
“You can go to the liquor store and that’s OK, it’s regulated, legal and safe, and you know what you are getting. Years ago, through prohibition (from 1916 to 1923 in Alberta) people were making their own alcohol and consequently people were going blind and dying because it was not regulated,” Porter continued. “When emotions get involved, we get fearful and I think what we need to be doing instead of less education, we need to be educating from a young age up on how to stay safe.”
Is Grade 10 too young to be learning about drugs and drug use? If so, when is the right age?
The ultimate tragedy, Porter says, is the death of a young one, and the question remains on how to help kids stay resilient along with being able to deal with the stressors in their lives so they don’t turn to substance use as a form of self-medication.
For many teenagers, drug use is about experimenting, or learning how to be autonomous, although there are also those who, due to trauma or physical or emotional pain, will turn to substances as a response.
“Our personality interacts with how the substances we use affect us. We have kids dying when using the substances for the first time because the drugs are so tainted, which is another reason I support a safer supply,” said Porter.
The Medicine Hat Drug Coalition’s mission statement is to advocate for a safe, inclusive, accepting community. The coalition does not promote drug use, however is aware people both old and young are using drugs. And, Porter says, the education isn’t just for the potential user. Sadly, in 2023, it’s not out of question that student could be walking from school to another location and come across someone who needs nasal naloxone. If they are trained and in possession of a kit, she says the have the ability to help save a life.
Children and drugs may be a hard subject for people to discuss, but Porter says to shut out the very organizations whose sole purpose is to keep people safe is not going to change the realities students face.
“There was nobody at the school telling kids to use drugs, that’s an untruth,” she said. “The reality is some kids are already using drugs and here’s a way, if they are going to continue to use drugs, to use them safer. That’s what the pamphlets were about. There is no evidence that talking to kids abut substances makes them use. If they are already using, bringing that awareness to them is important.
“What’s happening in our province is more recovery centres and treatment plans are being promised and that’s a good thing, but we are also having some of the harm reduction supports cut back. We need a collective of supports as it takes a community working together to save lives. Harm reduction is part of that collective and that is what SafeLink does.”