British Columbia

B.C. children's watchdog calls for youth-specific supervised consumption sites

In a 54-page report, British Columbia's representative for children and youth calls for harm reduction services for young people, including supervised consumption sites.

‘Adult [supervised consumption] sites are not youth sites’

Jennifer Charlesworth's report says youth use substances to numb the emotional pain caused by trauma in their lives. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

In a report that reveals 24 youth died of overdoses in 2017, B.C.'s child and youth advocate says young people in the province need more harm reduction services, including supervised consumption sites.

The representative for children and youth, Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth, made the recommendation in a 54-page report card focused on youth aged 13 to 18 living through the ongoing opioid crisis.   

The report says some may not agree with the idea of young people using drugs at a safe consumption site funded by taxpayers, but Charlesworth says the goal is preventing overdoses and deaths.

"Adult [supervised substance-use] sites are not youth sites. They are not places that [young people] feel safe and supported."

Drug use to 'numb' pain

The report, titled Time to Listen, gathered information from 100 young people across the province in focus groups and reviewed critical injury reports.

The surveyed youths' experiences with substance use varied with almost 90 per cent drinking alcohol or using marijuana or nicotine. Approximately half reported using cocaine, ecstasy or prescription pills and a third used fentanyl and other drugs.

Charlesworth says all of them reported using substances to "numb" emotional pain.

The representative adds that while many people believe youth should be in drug-free environments, often youth are not ready for treatment.

"When we've only been able to offer abstinence-only programs, we actually effectively drive those young people underground," she said.

The report's recommendations also calls for more youth involvement in the province's Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, an accessible information source about youth substance use services and for training to help foster parents communicate with youth about substance use.

It is published ahead of a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions strategy expected to be released next spring.

British Columbia Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy says her ministry intends to do more consultation with youth about the supports they need to deal with substance abuse. (Darly Dyck/Canadian Press)

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says the strategy will be focused on prevention and early intervention with children and youth.

"We're looking at improving the whole range of services for children and youth at risk of substance use and at risk of overdose, and we'll be looking very closely at [the representative's] recommendations in that context," said Darcy.

She did not say whether the province would consider youth-specific consumption sites but pointed to the existing set of guidelines for youth accessing supervised consumption sites. 

According to those guidelines, only youth showing "obvious signs of substance use with injectable drugs" are able to access the sites.

With files from Yvette Brend

About the Author

Eva Uguen-Csenge is a multimedia reporter for CBC News in Vancouver. Get in touch with her at eva.uguen-csenge@cbc.ca or on Twitter @evacsenge for story tips.

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