Contributed Forum on how to reach out to youth struggling with drug addiction in the Central Okanagan will be held in Kelowna on Sept. 21.

Youth drug abuse dialogue started

Online survey results to be discussed at Kelowna forum

An Okanagan drug treatment agency is heading up a conversation about drug abuse among Central Okanagan youth.

The Bridge Youth &Family Services in Kelowna, with support from the children and youth mental health and substance use local action team, want to initiate a dialogue about how to best serve young people who’re experimenting with or are addicted to drugs.

Jamie McGregor, program coordinator for youth detox and adult supported recovery, said problematic substance abuse has been an ongoing concern in the Central Okanagan now for decades, noting that last year 319 people under the age of 29 died of an opioid overdose in B.C.

The Interior Health board heard last week statistical evidence indicating that Kelowna has a greater fatal drug overdose problem per capita than Vancouver’s notorious downtown eastside.

The board was also told by staff of the need for local health, civic government and social service agencies in Kelowna specifically to come together to discuss ways to address the drug overdose crisis.

The Bridge is taking that step, McGregor said, by initiating a brief survey online called Starting The Conversation (https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/drugchatkelowna) and to express their thoughts over social media using #drugchatkelowna.

On Sept. 21, McGregor said a public forum, called Continue The Conversation, will be held in Kelowna at the Laurel Packinghouse to discuss the survey results and host a panel discussion where public input will be welcomed.

McGregor said while The Bridge’s focal area is the Central Okanagan, he encourages anyone across the Okanagan Valley interested or concerned about this issue to participate in the survey and attend the forum.

The Bridge is a non-profit organization that has been providing counselling, education and support services within the Central Okanagan since 1969.

McGregor says the hope is their initiative will create some momentum to pursue solutions to the drug overdose epidemic, bolstered by working with local groups such as the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club and The Foundry, a mental health services centre slated to open this month.

He said seeking solutions also means addressing the social stigma often associated with drug abuse, and in what ways the community should respond to people who have become drug addicts.

“It’s not always the idea that people are using these substances because it’s their fault for making that choice or because of their lifestyle,” he said. “In the larger perspective, that is not the case. We need to treat this as a medical and social issue, not through the criminal justice system.”