As anyone who has sat through a school assembly knows, adult-led anti-drug initiatives can have a hard time connecting with teenagers. For Betty-Lou Kristy, who will be speaking on addiction to EDSS parents for the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, the best way to reach skeptical minds is with firsthand knowledge.
“When somebody comes in who’s actually lived the life and experienced it, people pay a lot more attention to it,” said Kristy, who lost her son Pete Beattie to an overdose on prescription medication in 2001.
“For youth and emerging adults, that’s the key for them. They don’t want to be sold anything. They don’t want to be told what and what not to do. But when you come with just the reality – ‘Look, this is what’s happening out there’ – that seems to be a lot more effective.”
Kristy herself struggled with addiction to street drugs in earlier years, but she had no frame of reference for the substance abuse that claimed her 25-year-old son.
“It has completely changed the face of addiction,” she said of prescription medication. “Maybe in our day we could experiment and walk away. You don’t get to do that with opiates – the oxycontins, the hydromorphones, all of the pain medications. That’s the scary part – now the face of addiction goes from younger and younger right up to seniors.”
While these prescription drugs have their place, Kristy believes lack of education and understanding is a growing problem.
“Sometimes if your kid comes home with a really bad headache, and you’ve been given a prescription from your doctor for a pain medication, a parent might accidentally say, ‘Take one of these.’ You’ll start off with Percocet and oxycontin.”
Kristy will visit EDSS as part of “In the Mind’s Eye,” a two-month series of events across the region designed to make children and parents understand this new landscape, and possibly clear up misunderstandings.
“Some think that prescription medication is safe,” said Jessica Hutchison, community development and research coordinator for the crime prevention council. “If it’s not prescribed to you, it’s not safe for you.”
Other misconceptions abound, Hutchison noted. “I think also, the social acceptability of binge drinking is a really big problem, with our young people as well as with adults. It’s acceptable to get drunk, it’s acceptable to be trashed. I think that causes a lot of harm.”
By using guest speakers with experience, the program seeks to not only clear these misconceptions, but foster a better understanding of what addiction means to the addict.
“People are less forgiving of people who get stuck in addictions,” noted Kristy. “They seem to look at it as if it is a lifestyle choice, and it’s not. Addiction is an illness, and these young people are getting trapped just because they’re experimenting and they don’t have the knowledge.”
“Lots of kids tell us they want more education in the school system,” said Hutchison, “and not just from their phys-ed teacher, as well-intentioned as the phys-ed teacher is. They want to hear the real goods: what can happen to me?
“One-off events do not change people’s behavior,” Hutchison admitted, “but at least it gets the conversation started.”
Betty-Lou Kristy will speak to parents at EDSS on November 13 from 7-8:30 p.m. On November 26, former addict and dealer Rick Osborne will speak to parents and youth about his life and experiences 7-8:30 p.m. Other events taking place in Kitchener and Cambridge in October and November can be found at www.inthemindseye.ca.