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'They can save a life': B.C. school curriculum should include overdose education, advocates say

As students head back to class, there are calls to make education related to an ongoing public health crisis part of the school curriculum in B.C.

More than 10,000 people have died from illicit drug toxicity in the province since a public health emergency was declared in 2016. Some advocates believe informing students about drug safety, harm reduction, and overdose first aid could help save lives.

SFU health sciences student Chloe Goodison founded the NaloxHome program in 2021, where youth presenters visit high schools to talk about the crisis, stereotypes, and provide training to administer Naloxone, which reverses the symptoms of an overdose.

“I started high school in 2016 in Grade 9, and that was the year that BC declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency,” Goodison said. “And I went all four years of my high school without learning anything about the overdose crisis.”

Now, she said her team has reached 2,000 students in the Tri-Cities, and she’d like to see similar education provided in schools across the province.

“A lot of people just have it in their heads that the people who are using drugs and overdosing are all in the Downtown Eastside or unhoused, and we break down that stigma because drug use is all around us,” she said. “If every student in B.C. is able to recognize the signs of an overdose in somebody, whether it’s on public transit or in a park or downtown…more lives would be saved.”

Leslie McBain with Moms Stop the Harm, whose representatives have also spoken at schools, also supports the idea of drug safety education in the curriculum as well as naloxone training.

“I think it does change perception when kids start to realize that people who use drugs are anyone,” McBain said. “They need the facts, and they need to be able to ask the questions and feel open and free to do that, and safe to do that.”

McBain said the teen years are also when people tend to take risks, and want to experiment.

“However this one particular kind of experimenting…it’s not like drugs used to be, because as we know the toxicity of the street drugs out there, if that’s what kids would be accessing, makes it possibly lethal,” she said.

“They all want to be empowered by knowledge…when they learn about Naloxone for instance, and they have access to it and the training, I always say to them ‘you can be a hero’…they can save a life…kids are ready for that, and it’s just something that gives me hope.”

In a statement to CTV, the BC Coroners service said it “is supportive of any initiative that increases knowledge about the life-threatening risks posed by the toxic drug supply."

The service noted in the last few years, two inquests into drug-related deaths resulted in recommendations regarding education.

“While the deaths of youth due to illicit drug toxicity remain relatively rare in British Columbia as a percentage of all illicit drug toxicity deaths, everyone who uses substances is at risk,” the service said.

“It is critical that all of us - parents, educators, role models and peers - create safe, inclusive, non-judgemental spaces to speak honestly with young people about substance use, the risks involved, and the supports and resources available to them.”

CTV asked Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside whether overdose education could become a mandatory part of the curriculum.

“I know that there are many communities that have taken this on in terms of training up staff who work in schools, and certainly we’re looking at how to make opportunities available for students in upper grades to be able to take advantage of that,” she said Tuesday.

“So it’s very much a conversation we’re engaged in across the education system, with districts, with experts to ensure that these programs can be developed and roll out in an appropriate way.”

In the meantime, Goodison said her program is set to expand from the Tri-Cities to Burnaby.

“It’s going to take us all to contribute to the end of this,” she said. “It’s not a single-person issue, or an individual thing -- it’s a public health thing.” Top Stories


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