British Columbia

Drug education in B.C. schools changing to reflect overdose crisis

“Any opportunity where there’s pills and powders, young people, if they’re in those environments ... there’s real risk there. And they’re realizing that.”

Students being taught how recognize overdoses and reflect on how they would act while seeing one

The powerful opioid fentanyl is easily mixed with street drugs like MDMA, making some illicit party drugs potentially deadly. (Liz McArthur CBC)

New numbers on B.C. overdose deaths show the need for an evolving approach to drug abuse education, a Vancouver educator says.

April had the second-highest number of overdoses fatalities ever recorded in the province for one month; the B.C. Coroner's Service says 136 people died from overdoses that month.

Art Steinmann, manager of substance use health promotion for the Vancouver Board of Education, says drug abuse curriculum is changing to reflect the new reality as the crisis continues to claim young lives.

"The key messages are around delaying use. Or for youth who are experimenting, we invite them to monitor that and cut back," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"We help them understand what an overdose is. Would they know one if they saw one? What would they do if one occurred?

"We want to reach a lot of kids quickly."

Art Steinmann is the manager of substance use health promotion for the Vancouver Board of Education. He says the ongoing overdose crisis has forced educators to tweak their curriculum. (CBC)

Kids realizing risks

Steinmann says young people use drugs for all manner of reasons: undiagnosed mental health problems like depression or anxiety, trauma, or even simple boredom.

He says young people's brains are not fully developed so they also have poorer impulse control and are more sensation-seeking, which helps them learn and take what he calls "good" risks.

"We want to help them avoid risks with substances," he said.

"We certainly can never completely control the supply side, but there's a lot we can do to impact the demand side — in other words, the likelihood that young people will get involved."

He says kids are getting the message about how serious the crisis is.

At a recent assembly, he says one girl volunteered to open with her own story of losing her friend to an overdose as a way to focus her classmates' attention.

"Any opportunity where there's pills and powders, young people, if they're in those environments — and some of them certainly are — there's real risk there. And they're realizing that."

Listen to the full interview:

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast