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Developing a youth drug and alcohol strategy

Editor's note: This is part one of a three-part series on youth and drugs on the Sunshine Coast.

Editor's note: This is part one of a three-part series on youth and drugs on the Sunshine Coast.

The Sunshine Coast Youth Awareness Committee (SCYAC) was created six years ago in response to concerns about the safety and well-being of the youth in our community.

Over the past two years there has been much discussion about the increasing problem of youth alcohol and drug misuse. Last spring, thanks to funding provided to the School District by the former Action Society, the Youth Awareness Committee was able to commission researcher Carol Nielsen to prepare a locally-developed strategy to combat this misuse.

During the next three weeks, we will share with our community the current state of youth alcohol and drug use and proposed strategies to help youth avoid misuse.

The research project attempted to answer two main questions:What can our community do to prevent youth from misusing alcohol and or drugs (including tobacco), and how can we support youth who are misusing?

In order to answer these questions, 171 Sunshine Coast youth and adults were asked to help. These youth and key adults were asked to define the term misuse, provide an opinion about the extent of misuse issues on the Coast, develop a local philosophy to guide the strategy and develop ideas and direction for a local prevention strategy.

"We know that youth engage in risky behaviours: they skateboard, they drive too fast, they experiment with drugs and alcohol. We are involved in this project to help youth reduce the harm they do to themselves by participating in some of these risky behaviours," according to committee members Gale Woodhouse, Stacia Leech and Heather Gordon. Our youth community defines misuse as "when we do it every day, to get over depression or sadness, when we do too much or hurt ourselves or other people." Our adult community defines misuse as "when it effects behaviour or the ability for youth to function and make good choices."

Adults and youth involved in the research rated the extent of misuse to be about seven out of 10 youth on the Sunshine Coast. The substances most misused, according to both youth and adults, are marijuana and alcohol.

"Alcohol and drug use reduces your ability to make good choices," said Sunshine Coast RCMP Sgt. Danny Willis. "The need to acquire the alcohol or drugs becomes more important than other areas of your life. Slowly, without realizing it, the use becomes abuse.

"To feed a habit, you need money. Even if you have financial resources in the beginning, they are used up, and another source of income is required.

"Inevitably, bad choices are made to maintain the habit. People commit crime or sell themselves in one manner or another. Wherever there is a serious drug use issue, there is a crime issue. On the Sunshine Coast we have both."

Next Week: What are we as a community doing now. The Sunshine Coast Youth Awareness Committee includes representatives from the following organizations: Gibsons/ Elphinstone Community School, Roberts Creek Community School, Chatelech/Sechelt Community School, Pender Harbour Community Schools, Sunshine Coast Mental Health/Addiction Services, SCRD Parks and Recreation, RCMP, SD No. 46, Sechelt Indian Government District, Vancouver Coastal Health and Public Health, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Al-Anon, Alateen, Sunshine Coast Community Services, United Church Outreach, Needle Exchange Program, Town of Gibsons, Foster Parent Development Program and Elphinstone PAC.