Re­searcher pitches Ice­land’s so­lu­tion for youth drug use

Keep kids oc­cu­pied out­side school hours

Waterloo Region Record - - Local - LIZ MON­TEIRO lmonteiro@there­cord.com, Twit­ter: @Mon­teiroRecord

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.

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