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Health Unit youth website will target alcohol/drug misuse

SIMCOE, ON, AUG. 28, 2009 – The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is developing a youth friendly website aimed at alcohol and drug misuse among youths aged 13 to 18.

The website will be developed in partnership with young people and will use interactive approaches to raise awareness, increase access to addictions experts, build resiliency and offer alternatives to substance use, says Health Promoter Lina Hassen of the Substance Misuse Prevention Program.

“We chose a website over other means of communications due to the large geographical area and limited transportation within Haldimand and Norfolk Counties,” Hassen said. “Youth will be able to access the website from school, home or county libraries.”

The project is being financed by a grant from the Health Canada Drug Strategy Community Initiatives Fund.

According to the 2007 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey, Grade 9 to 12 students in central south Ontario, which includes Haldimand and Norfolk, “continue to experiment with substances at concerning rates,” Hassen said. “The survey indicates 75% of students had used alcohol within the past year, with 35% of students admitting to binge drinking. In addition, 14% of youth had experimented with illicit substances excluding cannabis. The rate of cannabis use was 31%.

A Student Health Survey of Grade 9 and 11 Haldimand and Norfolk students done by the local Health Unit in 2003 also showed high rates of alcohol and drug misuse. In the survey, 41% of students in Grades 9 & 11 reported drinking alcohol in the past four weeks and 40% of Grade 11 students reported binge drinking at least once in the past four weeks. The number of students using cannabis doubled between Grade 9 (26%) and Grade 11 (52%). In addition, 13% of Grade 9 and 11 students had used other drugs such as cocaine, hallucinogens or a designer drug in their lifetime.

“The study and survey results strongly support the need to focus on prevention efforts,” Hassen noted.

Substance misuse also leads to other high-risk behaviours, Hassen pointed out. “Our youth admit to being passengers in vehicles where the operator is under the influence of substances at rates higher than that of the rest of the province. Furthermore, the use of opioid pain relievers such as Oxy Contin has been more prevalent in recent years, with 21% of central south region students reporting use in the past year.”

The website will be developed in three phases, with a launch scheduled for September 2010.

In phase one, youths will participate in focus groups to determine youth attitudes and behaviour regarding alcohol and other drugs, community support services available, and website likes and dislikes. In phase two, the website will be developed based on the recommendations of local youth. In phase three, the website will be evaluated and promoted within Haldimand and Norfolk Counties.

“Although the website will be designed by youth for youth, it will also be helpful to teachers, parents and other caregivers.” Hassen said. “It will provide alcohol and drug information, resiliency building tips and community support contacts, including a direct email link to local addictions counsellors.”

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Media contact
Lina Hassen
Health Promoter, Substance Misuse Prevention Program
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Phone: 519-426-6170 Ext. 3274 or 519-318-6623 Ext. 3274
Email:lina.hassen@hnhu.org