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BOUNCING BACK    PART 2
(from The Bulletin and The Progress Enterprise)
15 January, 1997
by Theresa Hawkesworth

    More county students (Lunenburg/Queens) use drugs than five years ago, but the numbers still aren't as high as the rest of the province (Nova Scotia).
    "That's still cold comfort," says George Munroe, founder of Youth Support, a school based treatment and education program. "Although we're the lowest it still doesn't mean there's not a lot of room for improvement, but I think it does reflect in some measure the work that's going on here in the schools, both treatment and education." 

 
NOVA SCOTIA STUDENT DRUG USE 1996 
Drug use among students in Grades 7, 9, 10, & 12 
 
Alcohol Cannabis      LSD Non-Med. 
   use of 
stimulants
Psilocybin 
mescaline
 Crack / 
Cocaine
Anabolic 
Steroids
   PCP
      %        %       %       %
 
      %       %       %
Overall    54.2    32.1    12.4      8.9       8.3      3.6      2.8      2.6
Western    50.0    27.4       9.3      8.0       5.9      3.8      2.3      2.2
Central    53.7    33.8    14.6      7.9       8.9      3.7      3.3      3.5
Northern    55.3    33.4    13.0    11.1       8.9      3.3      1.9      2.2
Eastern    56.8    32.2    11.1      9.5       9.2      3.4      2.9      1.9
 

    Youth Support started in 1986 after four Parkview Education Centre students were busted for possession of marijuana. Trudy Johnson, then a guidance counselor,  asked George Munroe to speak to the students.
    "After a couple of months one of the lads who were being seen at that time said to me, 'I really enjoy talking to an old guy like you, (George was 39 at the time) but you don't have any idea what it's like to be 16 and abusing substances.' I said I didn't have a clue."
    From there, the program grew to more than 220 students last year. The program's 2.5 staff members see students on a one-on-one basis regularly and a number of county schools have group support sessions in addition to a group who meets every week out of school. The group offers fellowship, says Ms. Johnson, chairman of the Youth Support Foundation and principal of Park View Education Centre. "The kids will lean on each other. I think one of the healing things for people is to talk about things and have people support them," she says.
    As a school administrator, Ms. Johnson has learned to be flexible when dealing with Youth Support members. If a member comes to her and asks for time to help another member through a difficult situation, she's willing to trust their judgment. "If those kids can help their peers, they're better off than if I'm jumping all over them," she says. "These are kids who are trying to turn the corner."
    Every year, about 15 students are trained in public speaking and often share their stories with schools, parents and community groups. "It has worked magnificently," says Mr. Munroe. "In addition to that we have a recreation program for these kids, because for a lot of them, their only idea of having fun is to be drunk or stoned."
    The program is for anyone whose life is influenced by drugs or alcohol, either their own use or somebody else's. While mr. Munroe would like to be able to address tobacco use, they don't have the staff. "We see it as a huge problem because in many cases tobacco is the gateway drug to other substances," he says. "Among the kids we see in the schools, only about five per cent don't smoke tobacco."
    While drug use may not be rising as fast here as in other parts of the province, Mr. Munroe says there are some major concerns. Between 1986 and 1996, the average age students in the program started to drink changed from 13 to 11. "This is not the general population, but the kids who develop a problem." he says. Students are also much more open about using drugs. "It's not uncommon for me to get a kid coming to see me who is stoned at 11 a.m. That's a development that's taken place over the last couple of years." There's more cocaine and LSD use every year, says Mr. Munroe. "The LSD kids are using seems to be stronger than the stuff we saw three or four years ago. Also, we're starting to see cocaine. Five years ago we hadn't seen any and now it's starting to show itself. So I think clearly this is a growing problem."
    Ms Johnson says she hasn't seen any crack or cocaine in the schools. Marijuana, hashish and acid are more common. "Acid is plentiful right now, I hear, but it's hard to detect." she says. Every few years there seems to be an eruption of solvent sniffing, especially at the junior high level. It's scary because solvents, such as gasoline and lighter fluid cause permanent brain damage, she says. Parents who suspect a child is using drugs shouldn't panic or overreact, says Ms Johnson. They should do their homework, and open lines of communication. "There's support for parents even if the child doesn't want it," she says. A sudden drop in grades, a loss of interest in activities, a drastic change in sleeping and eating habits could signal a problem. Students without interests in extracurricular activities or family problems are more likely to use drugs, she says. Mr. Munroe mentions that the Youth Support Program only exists in Lunenburg and Queens Counties. It's the only program of its' kind in eastern Canada, east of Winnipeg.