Drug education helps Ontario youth in significant ways

By Marcel Gemme
Drug educator
Special to the Times

Amid the opioid epidemic and the continuing threat of fentanyl, there is a growing risk of lethal overdose associated with using illegal drugs. Drug education has become critical, and it significantly helps young people.

Parents and caregivers are the first line of defence and should have frequent conversations with their kids about fentanyl, drugs, and peer pressure. Resources like The Parent’s Guide to Fentanyl and local drug education play an essential role.

Fentanyl and fentanyl analogs are commonly found in illicit street drugs. Drug dealers are also manufacturing counterfeit pain medication made with fentanyl.

Additionally, purchasing illegal drugs off social media platforms has become increasingly easy. Drug dealers create social media profiles, use code words and emojis to advertise drugs. Teens and young people are often targeted because of how frequently they engage with social media.

The risks are real. In Ontario, opioid use disorder typically onsets during late adolescence and young adulthood. Opioid toxicity deaths are highest among adults aged 25 to 44 years. However, in 2021, adolescents and young adults represented nine per cent of all opioid-related emergency department visits.

When talking to young people about drugs and fentanyl, consider some of the following pointers:

  • Keep conversations frequent and small, rather than one big talk; this helps to build strong communication and trust. These conversations should fit into everyday life, and it’s never too late to start.
  • Make your views and rules about legal substances clear; set boundaries. They must have an understanding of the consequences.
  • Ask them what they know about fentanyl, listen to their opinions, and answer their questions. The conversation goes both ways. Avoid lecturing, threatening, or using scare tactics.
  • Be a reliable source of factual information; search out the answers together and find accurate data.
  • Be prepared to share personal experiences. Help them prepare to manage peer pressure, rehearse scenarios and practice what to say when faced with it.
  • Teach them about online safety and using social media safely, such as not giving out personal information.

Frequent conversations about prevention and drugs create a trusting environment where young people can feel comfortable discussing peer pressure and drugs.

Drug education can provide practical information they can use to help them make informed decisions and avoid dangerous situations. It helps prepare them to manage peer pressure and recognize these substances if they encounter them. It’s never too late to have these talks and make them a part of everyday life with your kids.

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with substance use for over 20 years, most recently with the creation of SUPE: Substance Use Prevention Education. His work focuses on a threefold approach: education, prevention, and rehabilitation.