B.C.’s opioid drug crisis has been brought into sharp relief once again this week, with the tragic death of 16-year-old Gwyn Stadon in a Port Moody Starbucks.
The crisis, which has claimed hundreds of lives already this year, was rendered all the more shocking by the age of the victim.
But should we be so surprised? More kids than ever before are experimenting with harder drugs… often with deadly results.
LISTEN: Brian Gross, counselor with the Valley Youth Partnership for Engagement and Respect talks teen opioid use
Brian Gross is a counselor with VYPER, the Valley Youth Partnership for Engagement and Respect – a Fraser Valley youth outreach program.
We chatted with him a few months ago about the Naloxone Ninja program, which teaches teens how to use the life-saving anti-overdose drug.
READ MORE: Teaching teens to use Naloxone
Gross says we don’t have hard numbers on how many kids are currently using, but he says it’s far higher than many would suspect.
And he says while most may not be regular users, many are experimenting. With the power of fentanyl and other drugs on the street the results can be deadly.
“What this crisis has brought to mind is that the difference between those two is not that important.”
He says the drugs on the street are more powerful than in generations past, and because they’re highly controlled kids are more likely to try injecting them for efficiency.
He says the potentially fatal consequences mean we need to stop treating the problem in a reactive way and come up with a more sustained community response.
One solution VYPER has tried is the Naloxone Ninja program.
Gross says youth in his program came up with the idea themselves, because they’d either experienced an OD, or knew someone who had. Many had never even heard of Naloxone.
“So when we introduced it to them, actually the stories started coming out from them about their experiences with overdose. We’d known some of these kids for two years and we had never heard these stories form them.”
Gross says the program opened a door that let youth be honest about what was going on in their lives, and offered them an avenue to do something positive.
He says many brought friends in because they felt it would be a safe and pressure-free environment.
“A lot of people will not come to something if they feel you’re going to be pressured into making some changes that you feel you’re not ready to make.”
Gross says creating dialogue is the key.
He says adults need to be able to talk openly to kids about drugs, who might be missing life-saving messages… like the fact you can’t use Naloxone on yourself.
“You’re going to be out of it, incapacitated. So we can’t pat ourselves on the back because we’ve got Naloxone out to people, we’ve got to change the environment in which people make decisions about using drugs.”
Gross says connections need to be built with young people so that when they do get into trouble, they won’t make snap decisions.
He says the number one way to do that is to form trusting relationships with the adults in their lives.