On April 13, a small group of community members and school staff gathered at Clearwater Secondary School for a community drug awareness session with presenter Angela Lawrence, drug and alcohol counsellor for School District 73.
The session was organized by Clearwater Secondary School, School District 73, and the Clearwater Local Action Team as part of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative.
Questions from high school students guided the conversation: 1) Why do people do drugs? 2) What effects do drugs have on the body? and 3) What is the most dangerous drug?
The video “Addictions” helped explain why some people are prone to addictions while others are not. The video stressed the importance of thinking differently about addiction, emphasizing the value of healthy human connections to help prevent an unhealthy connection to substances.
Lawrence stated, “Addiction is not well understood,” adding that it’s a field of contradictions with lots of debate.
“However, with current technology we can now see in our brains and see what the effects are of short and long term addiction,” she said.
Lawrence described the three classifications of drugs: depressants, hallucinogens, and stimulants.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid depressant that slows heart rate and breathing, is 50 – 100 times more potent than morphine, and is measured in micrograms. Fentanyl comes in liquid, pill, gel, or powdered form and has been used for 40-45 years in palliative and ICU care under strict guidelines.
The fentanyl sold on the street is a powdered form that is pressed into pills and comes mainly from China.
A video clip explained why the levels of fentanyl in these pills are inconsistent and therefore so dangerous.
People produce fentanyl because it’s easier and cheaper to make than heroin.
With Oxytocin being more difficult to access, people started looking at what could take its place.
So how much fentanyl does it take to be fatal? This depends on how many other opiates you have used before and if your body is used to it. Everyone’s body chemistry is different.
Experimental or recreational users are more at risk because their body has little tolerance for drugs and they also tend not to have a harm reduction strategy.
Naloxone reverses opioid overdoses when injected. At worst Naloxone will do nothing; at best it will save a life.
Interestingly, according to the McCreary Centre Adolescent Health Study, alcohol and marijuana are the most used drugs and opiates the least.
The question, “What is the most dangerous drug?” should be rephrased to be, “What causes the most harm to society?” Surprisingly, the answer is: “Alcohol.”
Alcohol affects every single organ in the body whereas opiates have a more limited effect on it.
Why then do people use drugs?
“Humans are substance-using creatures,” Lawrence said. We live in a substance use culture and dopamine gives satisfaction. Some substance use is even beneficial, for example when it is used by someone who suffers from chronic pain. The reason for kids using drugs is often the feeling of “we’re in it together” and “us against them.”
It also has to do with group attachment. Kids tend to move away from drugs when they put their mind to finishing high school or finding a job. About 70 per cent of people with a drug dependency manage to just quit but for those who struggle with a more persistent addiction, an opiate maintenance program works best.
In talking to kids about drugs, scare tactics do not work well. Kids love to look at the larger issues. To pique their curiosity, compare, for example, the costs of health between nicotine and drugs. It helps to show kids the spectrum and teaches them to put drugs in a health context.
“The Downside of High” from The Nature of Things by David Suzuki is a good movie for teenagers to watch.
The session ended with risk factors in the context of everyday human suffering.
Risk factors are: weak family connections, genetics and temperament, mental health issues, generational trauma (epigenetics), stressful/traumatic life events, poverty, few healthy adults around, drug-using peers, and academic failure. The power of attachment should never be underestimated.