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“Substance use occurs, and has occurred in all societies, really, for centuries,” she said. “We should be seeking to prevent the harms associated, and that looks very different than seeking to prevent all substance use.”
Rebecca Haines-Saah, Jenkins’ co-researcher and a professor at the U of C’s Cumming School of Medicine, said evidence shows the best drug education “is probably not about drugs at all.”
“Feeding kids a bunch of information about different drugs has zero effect,” she said.
She argues for a prevention strategy focused on helping youth build social skills, healthy relationships, and positive mental health.
Another approach is to invest in arts and sports programs, as was done in Iceland. “Iceland had super-high rates of alcohol and tobacco (use), and they halved them in a decade among teens,” Haines-Saah said.
Scott McKeen, the inner-city Edmonton councillor, believes one of the most effective things the city can do to prevent and treat addiction is to get people into housing and keep them there.
“We just fail, as a society, to recognize trauma and mental illness these people suffer, living on the streets in Edmonton. We don’t recognize that as a medical condition. We recognize it instead, falsely, as a moral failing,” he said.
The city’s approach to homelessness is “housing first,” a philosophy that argues people must have a safe place to live before they can start to work on the issues — like addiction — that led to them becoming homeless in the first place.