Youth substance use study gets provincial support, cash

The provincial government has partnered with Planet Youth - an Iceland-based research consultancy - for developing a community-specific model designed to tackle issues of addiction and use of substance among youth.

New Brunswick will be investing $255,000 each year in this five-year commitment, announced Health Minister Bruce Fitch at Saint John's Teen Resource Centre on Tuesday morning. The pilot project will be carried out in four locations including Saint John, Kent County, Woodstock and the Acadian Peninsula, beginning this fall, according to a press release.

Planet Youth will implement its successful Icelandic Prevention Model, which has helped lower Iceland's substance use stats in the last 20 years, the release stated. The research is "not based on feelings" but on actual data and analysis said Pall Ríkhardsson, CEO at Planet Youth.

The focus of the project is to provide evidence-based, data-driven solutions to prevent problems related to substance use "before they actually occur," he said, adding the essence of this project is "upstream thinking."

He said "the data will be collected in schools" at the four locations for children 14 and 15 years old. This data collection and analysis will be done in every second year during the five-year study, he said, adding the organization currently operates in 16 countries including Canada. The type of data collected is standard, but the solutions offered after analysis will be area-specific, in this case New Brunswick.

"It also involves the building of community-led coalitions, which include practitioners, researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders concerned with the health and well-being of young people," stated the release.

Along with Health Minister Bruce Fitch, Arlene Dunn, Aboriginal affairs minister, Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon and Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Bill Hogan also attended Tuesday morning's announcement.

Hogan, who is also a Woodstock resident, said he is happy to see his town chosen to be a part of the study. He said, being the former principal of Woodstock High School, he feels this is "very good news," and is pleased to see this initiative come to New Brunswick.

“We know 51 per cent of New Brunswickers have indicated they are at risk of developing negative mental health impacts due to the social isolation, stress and economic impacts of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic,” Fitch stated in the release. “That is why we are taking action to prevent addictions and mental health issues.”

Reardon said Saint John has "a lot of youth poverty," and along with that comes "a whole basket of issues." She said she feels happy that the province is recognizing these issues and it makes sense to choose Saint John as a location for the study.

"I am delighted. I think it's necessary. We see it, see the need, and I am delighted to see Saint John chosen as one of the sites," said Reardon, who has first-hand experience of seeing those suffering with addictions near her residence area, where she has lived for 35 years.

She also mentioned that she recognizes the fact that "it isn't a quick fix" but "is a good start."

"It is not a silver bullet but is it a silver bomb that, maybe, overtime," can help, she added. "We want that investment in people."

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal