With today’s shocking numbers regarding overdose deaths in B.C., it’s clear we’re dealing with an epidemic.
To one Fraser Valley group, that’s no surprise. And they’re got a controversial answer: teaching teens to use the life-saving overdose drug naloxone.
LISTEN: VYPER program director Brian Gross explains why they’re training teens with naloxone
Brian Gross is the program director of VYPER, the Valley Youth Partnership for Engagement and Respect, a group that works to try and improve the relationship between service providers and youth aged 12-24.
He says they developed the “Naloxone Ninjas” program in partnership with Fraser Health and the BC CDC after watching dangerous interactions between youth and opiates skyrocket, up by as much as 75%. Their first event in April drew 60 people, 20 of them youth, who took home 30 naloxone kits.
Gross says the idea came from youth themselves. He says they wanted to help friends who were using, and wanted to create an environment where they wouldn’t feel judged or pressured.
“Because a lot of times if there’s any whiff of that, those youth aren’t going to come out just because they’re going to feel bad. And they don’t want to feel bad. And that’s a lot of the reason why they’re using these drugs in the first place.”
Gross says the results were surprising. Not only did it engage the youth in a frank discussion about drug use and safety, but it also led to behavioral changes when the kids learned they needed to be sober in order to use a kit to save their friends.
“Instead of telling youth don’t use these drugs, when we give them something to do with their friends to make sure that they’re there so that everyone is safe, we’ve actually found that some of the youth who have been trained to use naloxone have markedly reduced, or stopped using opiates… because they want to be around and available to administer the naloxone if it’s needed.”
Encouraging drug use?
But does teaching kids how to administer an overdose kit endorse drug use?
It’s an assertion Gross rejects.
“We have a public health emergency on our hands. And unfortunately a number of those people who are dying – and the greater number who are overdosing and thankfully not dying – there’s a growing number of those that are youth. It is happening.”
He says while the reality is that many young people are experimenting with these deadly drugs, they don’t know that resources like naloxone exist. And he says talking about it is opening doors.
“When we told them about it, that’s when the stories started coming out. When we gave them the message that we are okay talking about drug use, they started talking about their experiences at parties or at friends’ houses where they had witnessed an overdose and felt hopeless and helpless about it.”
Gross says giving young people harm reduction tools, along with the space to open up about something so sensitive has produced encouraging results.
He says the youth who’ve participated are excited to be doing something positive, and leave with a little hope about what otherwise may be a very dark experience in their lives.