Researcher pitches Iceland’s solution for youth drug use
Keep kids occupied outside school hours
KITCHENER — Getting youth off drugs and alcohol means having a strong school and parental support system around them and keeping them busy in their down time.
It sounds simple, but it works, says Alfgeir Kristjansson, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at West Virginia University.
Kristjansson was a researcher in Iceland and helped get a support program off the ground in his homeland.
Iceland went from 42 per cent of teens, ages 15 and 16, saying they had been drunk in the previous month in 1998 to only five per cent saying the were drunk in 2016.
Teens using cannabis went from 17 per cent in 1998 to seven per cent in 2016. Smoking cigarettes daily dropped to three per cent from 23 per cent.
“Social problems are products of the social environment,” Kristjansson said in an interview this week.
He said the key is to “create an environment that doesn’t produce an opportunity for substance abuse.”
“As children get older, the impact of their peer group increases and the parental impact decreases,” said Kristjansson, a father of three boys; six, 12 and 18.
“You want to decrease unsupervised time as much as you can,” he said.
In Iceland, a co-ordinated plan involved parent and student councils, restrictions on tobacco and alcohol sales and government assistance to ensure teens had activities outside of school hours.
The plan also included a curfew. In the winter season, youth had a curfew of 10 p.m.
Kristjansson said the plan worked in Iceland because of the collaboration between elected officials and the community, as well as funding and a commitment.
Municipal leaders, policymakers and other professionals need to come together to ensure youth are occupied. It also means parents knowing their children’s friends and their parents.
Kristjansson will speak at the University of Waterloo on Thursday afternoon and later in the evening at the Kitchener Public Library.
Kristjansson said if teens have strong supports around them such as a school community and parental supervision, as well as purposeful activities in their leisure time, the chances of them getting involved in drugs and drinking are low.
This will help them later stay off more powerful drugs such as opioids.
In Waterloo Region and other communities across the country and the United States, opioid use has reached crisis levels.
Locally, most opioid overdose-related calls in 2017 were for people between 20 and 34, says the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council.
Last year, 71 people died of opioid overdoses in the region.
Today, Icelandic youth top the European charts for the cleanest-living teens.
In Ontario, 15- and 16-year-old teens are 2.8 times more likely than youth in Iceland to have used cannabis, and more than three times as many Ontario youth have been drunk, the crime prevention council says.
Thirteen per cent of Ontario youth, ages 15 and 16, have used an opioid in the last year.