Opioid deaths among youth is a growing concern for Alberta and locally Turning Point is working with youth to prevent overdose deaths.
Earlier this week Alberta’s child advocate Del Graff reported 12 teens died from overdoses of drugs that include fentanyl and carfentanil and he wants the province to create a youth-specific response to the opioid crisis.
“The more we can talk about this and give them the information they need to make good choices and safe choices, the more likely that those death rates will decline,” said Stacey Carmichael, Turning Point executive director.
Carmichael did not know if any Red Deer youths were among those who died.
She said fear-based models like Scared Straight do not work so people need to be really mindful of where youth are at and try to accept it.
“The reality is that a lot of youth are trying drugs so it’s important that we’re able to respond to them in a way that is going to be meaningful to them to reduce the impact of their drug use as they age.”
The child advocate wants to see schools teaching elementary students about substance abuse.
Carmichael said prevention is the best way to address the opioid crisis and Turning Point staff has already done presentations at middle schools.
She said a Turning Point needs assessment of about 260 drug users about a year ago showed almost 70 per cent of them had tried drugs before age 18. The youngest reported age was six.
The child advocate reported that youth between the ages of 15 and 24 have the fastest-growing rates of emergency department visits and hospitalization due to opioid use.
Carmichael said some youth do come to Turning Point for harm reduction supplies like naloxone kits.
“We try to make sure they’re as safe as possible. We’re doing our best at Turning Point, and other community agencies, to look after the youth. They are very vulnerable and we’re aware of that.”
Red Deer has great youth services, but more program capacity may be needed, she said.