Ottawa’s “opioid crisis”: Are local youth at risk?

Kids in school

In recent months, the dangers of fentanyl have been put in the spotlight: you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it, but only a small amount of the opioid can be deadly.

According to an alert released by Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the Ottawa Police Service, illicit fentanyl has been detected in counterfeit prescription medications manufactured to resemble pills like Percocet and Oxycontin. One hundred times more toxic than morphine, the risk of accidental overdoses are much higher.

These counterfeit drugs found in Ottawa have been involved in recent life-threatening overdoses that resulted in the tragic loss of some vibrant young people.

Many have wondered whether our community is facing an “opioid crisis.”

As we continue to get more information on how pervasive the impact of fentanyl and other opioids are on the community – one thing is certain:

Ottawa parents are scared, the community is on high alert, and we have the power to come together and help the kids that need it – before it’s too late.

According to the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, 60% of substance users aged 15-24 started using between 11 and 15 years of age. Additionally, one in six high school students have used a prescription drug recreationally.

The fentanyl situation is very different from any other we’ve seen:  Even a small amount, the size of a grain of rice, can cause an overdose. Furthermore, the danger isn’t only for youth struggling with addiction: from the A-student, to the star athlete, to the rebel, the introvert and beyond, every young person who may experiment or casually use drugs is at risk.

One mistake could cost them their lives.

But project step, a drug and substance abuse initiative serving youth in Ottawa, is one of the many ways we can tackle the risk of exposure to fentanyl and other drugs.

Project step partners provide youth and their families ready access to counselling support, treatment, addiction education and prevention programming in all 57 Ottawa high schools, three community agencies and two youth treatment centres.

“We need to get more people engaged in this city of one million people, more people engaged than ever before, to ensure we are continuing to provide this program to our young people in our schools,” says project step supporter, Vern White.

Vern White has held a passionate stance for the well-being of youth in Canada. As Ottawa’s Chief of Police from 2005 to 2012 and spokesperson for project step, he is a determined voice ensuring we take every possible step to help our youth face their future in the best way possible.

We also know that project step works.

In 2016-2017, project step helped more than 1,400 students access addiction counselling, provided more than 14,000 students and 2,400 parents with education sessions, and gave direct support to more than 200 parents who see their children facing or fighting addiction in Ottawa.

With the support of donors, project step continues to grow. Our results show that project step helps youth manage their problematic substance use in a significant way – overall, 75 per cent of participants reduce or stop using one or more drugs in less than one school year.

“When they need support they need it right away. There is no time to make appointments or be put on a waiting list,” says Dennise Taylor-Gilhen, vice president of community impact at United Way East Ontario.

“More can always be done to ensure students and parents are aware that help is out there,” she adds.

Donating to project step means increasing the capacity to provide addictions counselling, expanding prevention, education and awareness programming, and enhancing supports for parents.

“We can’t have the mindset that ‘if it was our child, we’d do something about it,’” says White. “The city’s youth are all our children and we have an obligation as a community to do something about it. We need to make sure we give information to young people so they can make the right decision, for them, in the moment real time.”

As a founding partner and strong champion for project step, United Way works with Ottawa’s four public school boards, Ottawa Public Health, the Champlain Region Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), the Ottawa Network for Education, the Ottawa Senators Foundation and five local agencies to respond to the community’s concerns about youth substance use in Ottawa.

You can help kids before it’s too late

Give now and support project step in the fight against fentanyl.

You can help kids before it’s too late

Give now and support project step in the fight against fentanyl.