The death of former Glee star Cory Monteith has drawn attention to the severity of addiction among youths in Thunder Bay, where one expert says local prevention programs are doing too little too late.

The co-ordinator of Thunder Bay’s Drug Strategy says the city has no shortage of drug prevention programs, but something is missing.

"We often do drug education that is the ‘Just say no’ approach and that doesn't always work," Cynthia Olsen said.


Cynthia Olsen, Thunder Bay's Drug Strategy co-ordinator. (CBC)

"If I tell you, ‘just say no,’ that's not giving you any information about what the realities are."

Olsen said young people need to hear why they should say no — and the message needs to go out in Grade 4 or 5, as waiting until high school is too late.

‘I used to really not care’

Craig Owen’s story is a good example of why saying no to drugs is a good idea.

The 25-year-old Thunder Bay resident started sniffing gas and drinking whiskey when he was 14, to dull the memory of finding the body of a murdered woman.

Ten years later, he said he's still trying to stop.

"I've been struggling with my mistakes while I was using," Owen said. "I used to burn myself with cigarettes. That's when, back in the day, I used to really not care about my body, how it looks like."

A treatment program in Thunder Bay helped him find other ways to deal with those regrets, he said.

While he’s been sober and clean for ten months, he said he'll never be completely free of his addiction, and still has slip-ups.

‘Looking for another fix’

The first time he sniffed gas, he said he felt like he was flying. It was a welcome relief from the sleepless nights and torturous nightmares that plagued him from the time, at the age of 12, he found a body hanging on a tree in the woods.

It had a "blue face, bugs coming out of her mouth and dark, black eyes. It was like it was staring at me," he said. "So I ran."

Not long after, Owen said he found a man passed out on the street with a bottle of whisky. He took the bottle and that's when he started drinking.

Then he got into trouble with the law, after committing a break-and-enter.

He was given the option to either get treatment or to go to jail for six months

Owen spent a year at Ka-Na-Chi-Hih solvent abuse treatment centre in Thunder Bay before going home

But when he got home, he started drinking again.

"I'd get up, go out, drink, pass out, wake up and go looking for another fix," Owen said.

He returned to Ka-Na-Chi-Hih in the fall of 2012 with the desire to try and get clean again — and has been so since November.

Owen said he has also been going to school, and only needs four more credits to graduate.

Early intervention

No matter the reason why youth descend into addictions, Olsen said the earlier they can be helped, the better. Children using banned substances are not necessarily addicted, she noted, however the younger they start using, the more likely they are to develop an addiction.

"For every year that you're able to delay substance use ... you decrease the chances by four to five per cent of having a problematic substance use disorder later on in life," she said.

"We know that ... it is [normal] for youth to experiment. That doesn't mean it's the right thing but, if they are experimenting, then we need to be able to provide them with real information ... I don't think that type of information is getting out to our younger generation."