Into the light

Cynthia Olsen, co-ordinator of the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy, gives a talk about opioids to principals, vice principals, social workers and mental health workers from Lakehead Public Schools.

Principals, vice principals, social workers and mental health workers from Lakehead Public Schools took part in an information session on Wednesday to learn about opioids and naloxone.

Cynthia Olsen, co-ordinator of the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy spoke to the room of secondary and elementary school educators about what they know of opioid use in the city, overdose prevention efforts that are being undertaken, and the role of schools in education, prevention and intervention.

“We want to be able to share with schools about the importance of informed education for young people about the risks of overdose and about some of the prevention measures we have in place in Thunder Bay,” said Olsen.

Citing a recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Olsen explained that the fastest growing rate of opioid poisonings are among people aged 15 to 24, which makes it an important issue of which schools should be aware.

“We have not noticed a problem in our schools, this is a proactive learning opportunity for us,” said Jeff Upton, education officer with Lakehead Public Schools.

“We want to be prepared in the case of our administrators needing to know what to do.”

The opioid crisis is something Upton said that we hear about across the province through mainstream media and social media. It’s a current topic that people probably don’t know enough details about, he said.

“It’s important for our administrators to learn about it and, obviously, our staff as well,” said Upton.

It’s a way to start a collective dialogue as the topic was discussed in smaller groups last year, he explained. In fact, said Olsen, Thunder Bay Drug Strategy and Lakehead Public Schools had planned the presentation at the end of the last school year.

It’s a presentation that Upton said provides an opportunity to have a targeted educational session for the administrators.

“They will take it back to their schools and lead some learning in their own schools with their own staff,” said Upton. “Again, we’ll partner with community partners to provide training.”

With a variety of schools in various neighbourhoods throughout the city and also in rural areas, Upton explained that while common needs exist, there are also localized needs in all the schools.

“We’re providing our schools this information and once they have this information, it won’t be a blanket ‘let’s do this’, response,” said Upton. “If a school in our community is finding that the students and the families in their area are in need of something then the principals will work with us centrally (at the board) and we’ll provide supports for whatever that issue or matter is.”

Rick Thompson, outreach worker with Superior Points, was also at the education session and spoke to the room about the overdose prevention program and naloxone and how people can access training.

Whether or not naloxone kits may be available in schools some day is something Upton said is very much an unknown.

“I’m not sure what the Ministry of Education is going to direct school boards to do yet at this point in time,” said Upton. “We’re still looking for some specifics through the Ministry as to whether the kits will be available in schools and school boards or not.”

What Upton and Olsen both said they hope the information session does is start a dialogue, not only between teachers, but also with students and parents.

As for the teachers, Upton said they are eager to learn more about the issue.

“There’s an appetite for learning among anyone who works in education,” said Upton. “When we hear about something new and don’t know about it, let’s get together and learn from the experts.”

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