The Vernon School District is taking a proactive approach to battling the opioid crisis.
Rather than waiting for drug problems to develop, school counsellors, backed by the district, are tackling potential problems before they materialize through a new program.
Preventure, a school-based preventative drug and alcohol program, aims to reduce drug and alcohol use in high-risk teenagers.
“The starting point is prevention, then intervention,” said Doug Rogers, district substance abuse prevention counsellor.
The Canadian-developed program screens Grade 8 students for four personality traits that are considered at risk: sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety sensitivity and hopelessness, as research indicates that up to 90 per cent of at risk youth can be identified from these traits.
And, as these traits are prevalent in youth at a young age, it allows counsellors to reach at risk students earlier.
“This doesn’t start in high school, it starts much earlier than that,” Rogers said. “Let’s deal with it now.”
Adolescents that are brought into the program attend two 90-minute workshops focused on educating and motivating youths to understand how their personality traits impact emotional and behavioural actions.
“A trait isn’t a weakness,” Rogers said. “It’s who you are.”
To demonstrate the potential of Preventure, director of instruction in student support services Truman Spring, alongside University of British Columbia Okanagan psychology professor Marvin Krank and lead for child and youth mental health and substance use of Interior Health Authority David Smith have invited minister of mental health and addictions Judy Darcy to see the program in action, as the Vernon School District is one of the first to implement the program.
“We are one of the few districts in Canada that are actually doing that,” Spring said of the screening process. “Our most at risk, those are the kids we really try to target. The key thing in the school district is prevention.”
Research has shown that benefits of the Preventure workshops last for up to two years.
“It’s research based. It’s evidence based,” Spring said. “We need to have programming in place to help the kids move forward.”
School staff is trained on Preventure procedures, with counsellors conducting the screenings.
Preventure is the Vernon School District’s frontline to battling the opioid crisis, however, it is not their only defence.
In all district high schools and alternate schools, naloxone kits are available should the need for their use arise.
“We’re probably much more aggressive and active than other school districts,” Spring said. “As the opioid crisis is taking everybody by storm, I think we’re at the front end for putting this together.”
Rogers and Spring began discussing the possibility of having naloxone when the opioid crisis was coined, and have had kits available in schools for just over a year.
“We had some push back initially, but it’s always better to be prepared,” Rogers said.
Naloxone — an antidote that can reverse an opioid overdose temporarily, is available to anyone without a prescription in B.C. for emergency use, and is not harmful to youths.
Part of the need for the antidote in schools, Rogers said, stems from the prevalence of fentanyl.
“Eighty per cent of drugs in the Lower Mainland have fentanyl in them,” Rogers said. “We’re not insulated from that.”
The district foot the bill for introducing the kits, and hold regular training seminars with school administrators and first aid.
“Everybody said the same thing—it makes sense,” Rogers said.
Naloxone kits are now recommended by officials to be available in all high schools across the province.
With the same purpose of prevention and preparation, the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District is looking at having naloxone available in select schools.
“An assessment is being done at each school to determine what schools, sites and student population may be at risk,” said Alice Hucul, North Okanagan-Shuswap School District communications officer. “If it is determined to be at risk, the school district will follow up with training to staff on how to use the naloxone kits.”
Risk assessments are currently underway in the North Okanagan-Shuswap district, and a trained first aid professional will provide necessary training, with the district hoping to have everything in place by mid-December.