'A very dangerous time': opioid meetings continue to draw parents in big numbers

Hundreds of parents once again filled a meeting space to talk about how to tackle illegal drug use in Ottawa and especially in Kanata, where concerns are on the rise.

'We want to make sure parents feel supported in what they're doing with their kids'

Ottawa police school resource officer Const. Cindy Cybulski answers questions about the city's opioid problem at Earl of March Secondary School on Wednesday night. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Once again, hundreds of parents filled a meeting space in Kanata to talk about how to tackle opioid drug use.

Ottawa Public Health officials gave a half-hour information session on fentanyl and counterfeit prescription drugs Wednesday night. The event, one of four scheduled this month, was hosted by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board at Earl of March Secondary School.

About 200 people, most of them parents of teens or pre-teens, watched the presentation on the signs and dangers of opioid drug use.

"We're living in a very dangerous time right now," said Dr. Petra Duschner, a psychologist and manager of mental health and critical services for the OCDSB.

She called the information session a collaborative effort between Ottawa Public Health, Ottawa police and the Rideauwood Addictions and Family Services centre.

"[It will] provide factual, accurate information and provide parents with an opportunity to learn more about some of the resources in the community," Duschner said.

Rideauwood and the public health agency had information booths set up in the school's foyer, where parents could learn more about support and counselling services.

Police perspective draws attention

But it was two Ottawa police officers who drew the most interest from attendees. After the presentation about a dozen parents asked school resource officer Const. Cindy Cybulski questions about the source and danger of illegal opioids.

Afterward, Cybulski said organizers noted the interest in the police perspective and would make time available for police to speak from the stage at the second information session scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Glebe Collegiate Institute.

​Earlier this month, police and public health officials issued a public warning about fake prescription pills potentially laced with the deadly opioid fentanyl.

In Ottawa, and Kanata especially, there has been a surge of concern since the recent deaths of two neighbourhood teens, both from apparent overdoses.

"We're really concerned with the counterfeit prescription drugs that are out there on the market, and we're really concerned with the toxicity and dangerousness of them," said Duschner.

'I find it very scary'

Shannon Barry attended the information session to find out more about Ottawa's opioid problem before her son becomes a teenager.

"I find it very scary. He's going to be 11 soon and kids are very receptive to friends coming up and saying, 'Hey, take this, take that,' and so I want to make sure my son is prepared," Barry said.

Her friend Jen Dowd has three daughters, the eldest 12 years old.

Dowd said her family has been shaken by the deaths in Kanata.

"With social media, it's been the community of students, they are finding out the information, or misinformation, a lot faster than we can present them with facts and information. So there's rumours going around."

​Marino Francispillai, a program manager of family and school health at Ottawa Public Health, said one of the aims of the information sessions is to inform parents about the importance of their support in the lives of teens.

"We're talking about mental health as well," he said. "We know that those who use drugs have described the high as being like a warm hug, so it's really about being present in the child's life.

"We want to make sure parents feel supported in what they're doing with their kids."

The third session is set to run March 22 at Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven. The fourth event is scheduled for March 23 at Gloucester High School.