By Angelica Allen – Angelica is a parent of three, two of whom have graduated from WRDSB schools and another who is currently in Grade 9. She is also the current Waterloo Region Assembly of Public School Councils Co-Chair.

Fentanyl and drug use is an important topic that has been covered extensively in the media recently, both because of deaths due to overdoses and the prevalence of needles found in public areas in our Region. I became interested in the issue after attending a WRDSB Board meeting as a spectator where the issue of naloxone kits in schools was hotly debated. It became clear to me that there was no easy solution.

While attending the Summit on Child and Youth Mental Health, I signed up for a session called “Strengthening our Community Through the Fentanyl Crisis”, presented in collaboration by the Ottawa District School Board, Ottawa Public Health, Ottawa Police and Rideauwood Addiction Services. The crisis in Ottawa was precipitated by the death of a 14-year-old named Chloe, who unknowingly took pills containing fentanyl at a party and died. My youngest daughter is this age, and it really brought the seriousness of the situation home to me, as did the death of a local 14-year-old boy under the same type of circumstances. Parents in Ottawa packed meetings put on by the city’s Public Health. There was immense public pressure to do something, anything, fast.

Fortunately, the four Ottawa school boards, Public Health, Police, and the two local Addiction Services organizations had already collaborated on other issues in the past. They wanted to work together on this emerging crisis and avoid exacerbating fear or panic. They stuck together and promoted their main goal, to make Ottawa safer. Public Health presented 12 Parent Information Nights across the city. The emphasis was on evidence-based information, and included a video called “Have That Talk” to support parents in talking to their kids about mental health.

This is what the presenters told us was crucial in the planning process:

  1.     You need a solid foundation for collaboration
  2.     Don’t be reactive, be intentional and take the time necessary to do it right
  3.     Communication is key, as is a united message
  4.     Youth engagement is crucial
  5.     Collaboration between institutions greatly improves the success rate

Ottawa is being proactive and collaborating with community partners, youth and parents. The presenters ended by saying that because fentanyl can be so easily disguised in many substances, advanced planning is needed to prevent an overdose from occuring in school. They said it is not a question of “if” but “when”.

Locally, the WRDSB is one of many organizations in Waterloo Region working together to address opioid use and substance issues as part of the Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy. They are putting together a Waterloo Region Opioid Response Plan that addresses the best options to keep our community safe, including education and prevention. I can report that in December, the WRDSB along with the Region of Waterloo Public Health, Waterloo Regional Police Service and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board published a letter encouraging parents and caregivers to have conversations with their kids about the risks associated with drug use, particularly in regards to fentanyl.

The following videos and resources may provide more information about drug use among youth and can help you talk with your children about the signs of an overdose, fentanyl, naloxone and calling 911.

As parents and guardians, we have an important role to play is helping our kids understand the risks of drug use. Having supportive conversations is a good place to start, even if the thought scares us. And, like in Ottawa, advanced planning and collaboration is needed to combat this crisis. More information is available at the Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy site.

I will be following with great interest the path WRDSB and its community partners take down this difficult road.

  • Angelica Allen

Parent Posts are written by parents, for parents in collaboration with PIC. This series features guest parent bloggers where they share resources and information with other parents. We invite you to email and let us know if there are other topics you’d like to learn more about on Parent Posts.

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