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Connection is the Key to Drug Prevention

By Hempology | March 16, 2007

A California pediatric psychologist and substance abuse expert says adults in Medicine Hat have the power to help drug-endangered children.In her keynote address, which wrapped up the Medicine Hat Community Drug Council’s Community Leaders Conference at Chinook Village on Wednesday, Canadian-born Dr. Kiti Freier of the Loma Linda University and Children’s Hospital said the best way to prevent children from falling into a spiral of use and abuse is to ensure that they have access to at least one adult who is “connected” — connected to the community, connected to their emotions and connected to the well-being of the child.

“Keep kids busy in healthy activities with adults who have values,” said Freier. “That is your prevention strategy.”

In one of many illustrative anecdotes, Freier told the story of how one community she worked with had an unprecedented high rate of drug abuse among 15-to-24-year-olds. The community responded by erecting state-of-the-art skateboard parks. “And guess where the best place in town to buy drugs was?” Freier asked.

Healthy adults in the community need to be with kids at risk, she said, even if it means going with the kids to the skateboard park.

“We’re older, we have fragile bones but — go break one,” she urged half-jokingly. “Get out there and be a friend. I believe it’s the key to our place in the world and the key to substance abuse prevention.”

Mayor Garth Vallely attended the full-day event and agreed that the people of Medicine Hat can accomplish such a plan.

“Can we do this as a community? Yeah,” said Vallely. “But we have to act as individuals to spread the word. I don’t think we can make this part of the Community Development Department’s work because with situations like this, you’re not really helping if you’re getting paid. You can break the cycle by getting involved. All it takes is adults with passion, with values, to volunteer.”

Freier’s speech was peppered with humour — a relief from the dismal statistics that chart the growth of the number of children in Canada and the U.S. who are considered drug-endangered.

Children’s lives can be endangered by substance abuse even before they are born, she explained, citing examples of children born to addicted mothers, children taken into foster care during drug raids and children who grow up in an environment of dealing and using. She offered a plethora of information resulting from new research and amazed the crowd of more than 100 with her insight and compassion.

As she left Chinook Village, she applauded Medicine Hat for its positive response to the problem of drugs in the community.

“I’m so impressed that your mayor and your deputy of law enforcement, educators and counsellors sat here all day and showed their commitment to the cause,” she said.

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