Elmira District Secondary School will achieve a milestone later this spring when the last cohort of students will complete an overdose awareness course. 

The training began in the fall of 2013, after a student at the school overdosed on morphine at a party and later died in hospital. 

kathy mckenna public health overdose training

Public health nurse Kathy McKenna has been leading the overdose training since it began in 2013. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

"The more awareness we get out there, the better," said Kathy McKenna, the public health nurse who has been leading the training since it began.

"It's something that's so important for everyone, because anybody can be at risk of overdose, whether using as prescribed or not."

Students who go through the course are taught how to identify symptoms of an opioid overdose, how to take care of someone who has overdosed, and who to call for help.

"Harm reduction, it's not preaching saying 'no' to drugs, because we know that does not work," McKenna said. "We have to treat substance use like we do other things in day-to-day life." 

Training clicks with youth

Overdose training is mandatory for all Grade 9 and 12 students at the school. Come April, every student at the school will have completed the course.

"To be honest with you, I thought that once someone was having an overdose there was nothing you could do," said Emily Willms, a Grade 12 student who took the training the week before 2016's March Break.

"I feel like them telling us what we could do to save someone is probably the best thing they could do."

EDSS overdose training

Students who complete the training know how to identify and help someone who is experiencing an opioid overdose. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Like others in her class, Willms said she has grown tired of hearing the "don't do drugs" message. 

"That is the most useless thing they do," she said. "Kids aren't going to be, like, 'Oh, my teacher told me not to do drugs, so I'm not going to do drugs.' They're going to do it either way."

Having completed the training, Willms said she feels confident in her ability to protect herself and others from drug overdoses.