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Combating drugs and alcohol

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 29, 2010

HAY RIVER - In 2008, some students at a Hay River high school approached administration with concerns that drug and alcohol abuse had gotten out of control among their friends.

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Danielle Gardiner, a student at Diamond Jenness Secondary School, holds informational bookmarks from the Hay River Drug and Alcohol Strategy. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

One felt a couple of his friends had dropped out of school because of it.

That was the spark that led to the creation of the Hay River Drug and Alcohol Strategy.

The administration of Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS) took the concerns to Jill Taylor, who has become the driving force of the strategy involving 32 different organizations in an inter-agency group.

"We had to start from scratch to find out what the problems were and what we were going to do about it," said Taylor, an inclusive schooling co-ordinator with the South Slave Divisional Education Council.

Among other things, she initiated a late-2008 survey on drug and alcohol use by DJSS students.

"The information indicated the youth of Hay River were reaching out for help," she recalled. "There was no doubt."

Since then, the strategy has made progress, but a second survey of DJSS students in January found a troubling increase in the use of cocaine and ecstasy.

In the recent survey, 7.9 per cent of students in Grades 10 to 12 reported using cocaine in the previous 30 days, compared to 0.6 per cent in 2008. Students in Grades 8 to 9 reported a small increase in cocaine use in the previous 30 days - 1.4 per cent, compared to one per cent in 2008.

As for ecstasy, 6.4 per cent of respondents in Grades 10-12 reported using the drug in the previous 30 days, compared to three per cent in 2008. Among Grade 8-9 students, 1.4 per cent reported using ecstasy in the previous 30 days, compared to none in 2008.

"This new survey is showing us we need to look in a different direction," Taylor said. She said the strategy first focused on alcohol and marijuana, and this year's survey showed a decrease in the use of those two substances.

Taylor said efforts against cocaine and other hard drugs will begin with an information campaign after spring break and bookmarks detailing the dangers of alcohol and drugs.

She also said the GNWT's new anti-drug initiative will be helpful.

The strategy's efforts against alcohol and marijuana will also continue.

Taylor, who doesn't have any title with the strategy other than being a member, said almost all the ideas from its initial meeting in early 2009 have been reached or are in progress.

Sgt. Scott Buchanan of the Hay River RCMP said it is "definitely" making a difference.

"The results of the drug strategy are tangible," Buchanan said.

Among the 32 organizations involved in the strategy are schools, the RCMP, Aurora College, K'atlodeeche First Nation, the Hay River Ministerial Association, the Hay River District Education Authority, and numerous departments of the GNWT.

The strategy's activities and accomplishments include drug and alcohol programs in schools, information sessions for youth and parents, "drug-free community" posters, and visits by motivational speakers.

In addition, the Jodie Worden Lecture Series - named after the widow of Hay River RCMP Const. Christopher Worden, who was shot and killed by a drug trafficker in 2007 - has brought eight speakers to the community over the past year.

Plus, a five-credit leadership and resiliency program was introduced for students at DJSS.

"It's one of the first in Canada," said Taylor.

One of the strategy's major initiatives is the Lights On program at DJSS and Princess Alexandra School.

"That's the one I'm most proud of," said Taylor, who came up with the name.

She said youth were saying there was not enough to do on weekends, when recreation facilities are largely taken over by adults.

Lights On, which was launched in September, keeps the lights on at DJSS from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at Princess Alexandra School from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays.

Young people can find a safe and caring environment to enjoy sports, music, video games, cooking and more.

"Every activity is highly supervised," said Taylor, adding the program has obtained $98,000 in annual funding over three years from Health Canada.

Ryan Shank, a 17-year-old student at DJSS, said Lights On is a good idea.

"It gives us something to do, and it's fun," he said.

Shank said he is sometimes asked to go to parties where drugs and alcohol may be present. "But I say, 'I can't. I'm going to Lights On.'"

Another DJSS student, 18-year-old Ashleigh Haines, also thinks Lights On is good for young people.

"It's a place to go when there's nothing else to do but go out and drink," she said.

Sgt. Buchanan believes Lights On is an excellent idea. "That program, in my opinion, is brilliant," he said.

Overall, Taylor believes the efforts of the strategy are making a difference.

"Absolutely," she said. "I think it's one student at a time and one family at a time." While the focus is on youth, the strategy is designed to help everyone, Taylor said. "There are no age boundaries to addictions."

Every few months, the inter-agency group meets to review the strategy.

Although it is more than a year into its work, the Hay River Drug and Alcohol Strategy will be officially launched on March 29. The launch - set for 12 to 4 p.m. at the Hay River Community Hall - will show people what the strategy has been doing, Taylor said. "I'm sure there are a few who are unaware of our efforts."

The event will include the launch of Not Us, the GNWT's new anti-drug initiative.

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