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Drugs and alcohol part of youth and young adult scene in Whistler

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Community workers strive to educate kids on dangers of substance abuse

The results of a new Lower Mainland drug and alcohol study are mirrored in Whistler, said a community youth outreach worker.

"I think the usage is quite high for our young adults between the ages of 18 and 24," said Greg McDonnell.

And kids as young as 12-years-old are already experimenting with alcohol and marijuana.

But McDonnell and others are working in the schools and in the community to make sure kids, parents and others understand the risks of this type of behaviour.

A couple of weeks ago Grade 7 and 8 students got together for candid discussions with youth workers to find out more.

"They were amazing workshops which took on a Harm Reduction theme," said McDonnell.

Harm Reduction accepts that youth are going to experiment with drugs and alcohol. The focus is on providing them with some decision-making skills and some knowledge about what some of the consequences are.

"We came up with three pillars to educate these youth," said McDonnell.

"They were to chart your own path, take care of yourself and others, and have a plan.

"If you find yourself in a situation where you have lied to your parents about going to a movie, you’ve gone to some party and the buddy you went with got smashed, what do you do?"

Those are the types of situations kids and parents have to be prepared for said McDonnell.

The high school’s Drug and Alcohol Committee has already had its first meeting and has drawn up strategies to focus on parental education, and alcohol and drug use. It is also looking at hosting a dry grad again in the wake of the hugely successful one last year.

Whistler also has an active outreach service for both youths and young adults, including a drop in centre in Millennium Place. Many kids consider it a safe haven and use it if they find themselves in a bad spot.

While no parent wants their children to be abusing substances, it’s a small comfort to know Whistler youth have somewhere safe to go for help if they can’t get home or aren’t ready to face their care-givers.

The Lower Mainland study found one quarter of young people have used the drug ecstasy, one in five has used cocaine, and almost the same proportion have experimented with speed.

The Pacific Community Resources study also found evidence of heroin use or experimentation among seven per cent of people aged 12 to 24.

When asked what drugs they had tried during the previous 30 days 58 per cent of respondents said they had used alcohol and 42 per cent they had used marijuana.

Males were more likely to use marijuana and females to use alcohol.

More than 80 per cent of those surveyed said they could purchase marijuana or alcohol within 24 hours.

Sadly that’s a statistic Whistler can beat.

"I’ll tell you right now that 100 per cent of people in Whistler can get that in five hours," said McDonnell.

Part of the problem youth and young adults’ face in Whistler is the nature of the community. It is totally geared to having fun and partying. The activities are really aimed at adults but if that’s what youth see that is what they are influenced to do.

And the availability of the drugs is a big concern to McDonnell and others.

"What concerns us if those drugs are readily available, is if they are trying it at 13 to 15, are they going to be more inclined to use it when they are 18 to 24?" he wondered.

The pressure to use drugs can be quite subtle.

"Marijuana, because it is so socially acceptable here in the young adult population, is affecting the youth population," said McDonnell.

"The youth population observe that young adult population on the chair lift, in the village, and they are then desensitized by it because it is socially acceptable.

"The peer pressure is not overt it is more, hey, that snowboard kid who is sponsored and who’s got all the nice clothes and is popular in the school is doing it so next time I am at a party I’ll do it too."

And then there is the issue of parents using too. Kids copy what they see.

"Parents really have to ask themselves what kind of modeling they are doing," said McDonnell.

"It’s bloody unhealthy after all."

There are a number of resources adults and youth can access to get information or counselling on these issues.

McDonnell can be reached at 604-938-3902. Tessa McLaughlin, youth outreach worker for young women, can be reached at 604-905-1728.

Free drug and alcohol counselling can be found at 604-932-3312.

Despite the alarming statistics from the Lower Mainland study McDonnell believes Whistler kids are making the right choices.

"Whistler is well served," he said.

"The kids at the high school have lots of support and there are lots of programs. They are great kids making good decisions.

"They are experimenting like any other kids on the planet. But I think they are making relatively healthy choices."

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