By Sharon Weatherall
MIDLAND — Grade 12 student Larissa Moreau says she is against drugs and a recent workshop at her school confirmed her reasons why.
Moreau who attends Seventh Fire Education Program at Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre was one of 34 participants in “Substance Abuse and Aboriginal Youth Involved in the Justice System”, presented by the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres.
“It made me realize why I am against drugs and don’t use them,” said Moreau. “The workshop facilitators talked about helpful services for people who need support and told us about kits provided by local services for drug users to help against the spread of HIV, AIDS and HEP C. The kits show how they can get sick by using the same needle and spreading disease.”
The purpose of the workshop was to undertake a community assessment to increase the effectiveness of local efforts to address substance abuse by youth involved in the justice system. The 2007 Urban Aboriginal Task Force says ongoing problems with addictions, mental health and a lack of positive cultural, recreational and social activities are issues linking aboriginal youth to increased gang membership and substance abuse.
Aboriginal people are currently over-represented in the justice system, accounting for 19 per cent of the population in federal correctional facilities.
One report says 33 per cent of Aboriginal youth over the age of 15 use solvents, with most beginning at age 11. Data collected by Friendship Centres have raised concerns across the province about prescription drug use in urban Aboriginal population.
Through discussion, group work and a video the workshop explained what type of drugs are being abused, harm reduction and other services available locally. In North Simcoe there are methadone clinics and clean needle provision, but the steps to reducing addiction are slow.
“The workshop was not too in-depth and was basically held to get the youth’s view of drugs and gather more information,” said Rebecca Picotte, a student in the Addiction Program at Everest College in Barrie. “Harm reduction is a way to keep addicts safe while using, but there is not a lot of this service in the community. There was talk how it would be beneficial to get more here.”
There are many prescription drug users in North Simcoe and Picotte was amazed at how young the kids start using. She learned that many turn to prescription drugs because of peer pressure, lack of home support or because home life is not good.
Friendship Centre member Sarah Desroches said oxycontin and percoset are readily available in the local community.
“Transportation is a big concern,’ she said. “Lots of people don’t have a vehicle to access the services.”