Prevention and Education

One of the most cost effective and long-lasting ways to reduce harms associated with substance use is to prevent them from happening through education and attention paid to efforts in early childhood and adolescence. It is well known through research that children are more resilient and develop healthy coping behaviours when they have what they need growing up. When they don’t have a stable and loving home environment, they may develop unhealthy behaviours. This is often termed Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have far-reaching outcomes in terms of future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunities. Adverse Childhood Experiences have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death.

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As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes. Research in Canada and the US consistently shows that the more children are exposed to adverse events, the more likely they are to have trauma and perhaps will develop harmful substance use. Most treatment programs take a trauma-informed approach to working with substance use issues. Childhood experiences are an important public health issue and we have begun to address this in the past 30 years.

In our region, we should consider the impacts of growing up in multi-generational poverty, with child abuse and neglect, and a lack of access to resources such as after school programs. We can especially look at the impacts of colonization and residential schools on our Indigenous peoples, both on and off reserve. Families that have had generations of substance use issues tend to have increased unhealthy coping skills and less resilience to overcome these adverse childhood events. Early childhood educators, schools, and social services are addressing these, though communities tend to forget about prevention and longer-term work as when we face crises that demand much of our resources and attention.

Prevention efforts can be quite complex and diverse in nature. Efforts may involve different levels of intervention (primary, secondary, or tertiary prevention) or may draw on a number of different perspectives of prevention (population health models, community-based strategies, and legal/enforcement approaches). Intended outcomes for prevention efforts may include reduced individual, family, neighbourhood and community harm from substance use; delayed onset of substance use; reduced incidence and prevalence harmful substance use; and improved public health, safety and order.

One local prevention strategy in CKL is the “Medication Take Back Campaign”. Trends indicate rising rates of recreational prescription medication use among youth, the majority of whom obtain these drugs from family medicine cabinets and from friends. In an effort to reduce diversion of prescription medications and contribute to increased community safety, the HKPR District Health Unit, in partnership with police, pharmacies and other agencies, participates in prescription drug drop-off events. These events offer a safe, convenient way to dispose of unused medications and promote the pharmacy take back programs for any other time.  To learn more, contact the HKPR District Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, or visit http://www.healthsteward.ca/

Peer-led programs have been successful prevention efforts to reduce the harms associated with substance use.
For example, the Parent Action on Drugs’ Challenges, Beliefs and Changes (CBC) Program is a peer-based prevention education program for senior secondary students to present on the harms associated with substance use to their younger peers at the grade eight/nine level. The program attempts to empower school-aged youth to make effective decisions about the use of alcohol and other drugs.

1 MacPherson, D., Mulla, Z., & Richardson, L. (2006). The evolution of drug policy in Vancouver, Canada: Strategies for preventing harm from psychoactive substance use. International Journal of Drug Policy, 17(2), 127-132. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2005.10.006