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Why Kingston, Ont., is looking to Iceland for solutions to youth substance abuse

Pediatric drug abuse is a fast growing problem in Kingston, as it is across the province.

That’s why a Kingston-based group is working to deliver an Icelandic harm-reduction model to kids in Kingston.

“The evidence is quite powerful and shocking and scary,” said Wendy Vuyk, director of community health at the Kingston Community Health Centres, adding that she encounters evidence of substance abuse by young people on a daily basis.

In response, Vuyk is part of a collaboration of community members and organizations called the ACEs and Resilience Coalition of the Kington, Frontenac and Lennox-Addington Public Health (KLF&A) that’s bringing Iceland’s “Planet Youth” concept to the area.

The program dates back to 1997 and is a harm prevention strategy that mobilizes supports in a young person’s world — family, school, community sports, and more. It also provides interventions that include counselling and programming.

Drug use among young people in Iceland has declined substantially since the early 1990s, with Planet Youth receiving much credit for the success.

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The model, which focuses on early intervention, has subsequently been implemented successfully all over the world.

In Kingston, Anne Marie McDonald, vice-principal at Bayridge Secondary School, said the model is a perfect fit for the community’s needs.

“What can we do to invest in them and have pro-social activities embedded in their communities and their schools that will make them less likely to be vulnerable to choices that impact them negatively in later years and adulthood,” she said.

McDonald, like Vuyk, is seeing substance abuse problems in the school setting.

“We shouldn’t have kids in grades seven, eight, nine, going to rehab. That is not something that any of us got into this profession expecting to support,” she said.

Earlier this month, the coalition made an impassioned presentation to Kingston city council. It resulted in an application to the Public Health Agency of Canada for funding to bring the program here.

The application was submitted on Jan. 15 and the group is now waiting to hear back.

“It’s like planting a tree,” Vuyk said. “The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second best time is today, so let’s do it now.”

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