B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth (Black Press files)

Drug-related deaths double for B.C. youth in care, advocate says

Teens say positive connections with adults key to recovery

Twice as many young people in B.C. government care died of overdoses in 2017 compared to the previous year, according to a new report from Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth.

The 24 youth between age 10 and 18 who died of drug overdoses last year is more than the previous three years combined, and reflects the opioid overdose wave that resulted in 1,452 total deaths in B.C. in 2017. The report also shows drug-related critical injuries nearly doubled in the same time among young people in contact with Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Charlesworth continued the work of previous representatives with a report called Time to Listen: Youth Voices on Substance Use, released Thursday. It analyzed 154 critical injury and death reports, and set up focus groups with 100 young people around the province.

Charlesworth recommended the ministries of health, children and families and the new mental health and addictions ministry develop a “full spectrum of youth-specific harm reduction services, including youth-specific spaces for supervised consumption, that is embedded in a system of wraparound services and supports.”

“A key central theme of these findings is the importance of positive connections to the lives of youth who use substances that can increase health and wellness outcomes,” Charlesworth wrote. “When youth have strong connections to supportive adults and peers, early access to community supports such as schools, mental health and harm reduction services, and to culture, they are more likely to develop coping mechanisms and find protective factors in their lives that reduce barriers to safer substance use.”

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said she gets the message that the ministries need to work together better to support young people in crisis and using drugs.

“We have heard from youth and families about how difficult it is to access information about available services and to navigate a fragmented and confusing system,” Darcy said Thursday. “We recognize the importance of a seamless and co-ordinated system of care where every door is the right door and a single point of access for youth and all British Columbians, connecting them to all available mental health and substance use services.”

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The injury and death case review found that 86 per cent of youth had experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives.

“In almost every focus group, the first reason youth gave for using substances was ‘to numb’ emotional pain caused by events in their lives, or from past trauma,” the report states.


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