NORMAL. Activities that are ’normal’ are things that that reoccur, are regular, happen a lot, or just ‘the way it is.’ What we grow up in, or live with, ‘becomes our normal,’ the way we think life is. I do not claim to be an expert on this subject, and the following is only my opinion.

There are things here in the Cape which have become the norm for many people, but in reality are far from normal. If some of the same things were happening in another community, I believe it would be considered an emergency. It is important to step back and see outside our own view sometimes, and to see a bigger picture.

Here in Cape Breton we have an unacceptable amount of youth and young adults struggling with addiction. Not only is this true, but the level of addiction and types of drugs has made death from of addiction issues incredibly common. I was told in the past two weeks we have had five more drug related deaths in our community. This should be shocking, and it would be except it is the norm, it happens all the time.

I believe if you sit down with most high school students, or young adults, in Cape Breton today you will discover that they have had more friends die than the average fifty year old. Death from drug and alcohol use is normal.

My family moved back to Cape Breton almost ten years ago and I work with Undercurrent Youth Centre and Lighthouse Community Church in Glace bay and Sydney. While I know our age demographic may be different than some churches, I have yet to do a funeral service for anyone who died of old age. Every one has either been a unexpected event, tragedy, or the most common, a drug or alcohol related death.

If you are are a young adult male in Cape Breton you are more likely to have an alcohol addiction problem than not, as the percentage of problem drinkers in the age group has exceeded fifty percent. The amount of that are needles getting exchanged at our ‘safe programs’ has been increasing at least 25% every year for many years. This year we are on track to see the biggest increase ever. If the trend continues, within 4 years the amount of needles being exchanged per capita will be 1000% higher than the mainland.

Things are not the same as they used to be. The use of highly addictive and very destructive drugs is increasing. The evidence is clearly seen the amount of deaths. However, the pain, issues, problems, guilt, and destruction is felt in the lives and homes of thousands.

Stating the obvious may not change the present reality. In fact, the issues are so big it may seem too daunting to change. Perhaps, this is why we accept a ‘normal’ which is not really normal. Change is difficult and it costs. However, it is worth it to see our kids, youth, adults, and families living free.

Here are a few thoughts on where to begin.

(1) Admit it. Too often we don’t want to tell the truth about what is happening. Even talking about our issues can be painful. But, know that you are not alone. We need to hear each other’s stories. We need to know the truth about what is really happening. My own family has been affected by drug use. Here is a link to an article about this–famil… If your are struggling, or a family member is, talk to someone. We have great people working with many organizations here in Cape Breton.

(2) Work Together. It is true that no one person, or organization, can save everyone. However, together we can do so much more. Every community has groups and organizations who need people to run. Commit to one group for a season. Regular, consistent volunteers are what make programs work. Find an organization and help, get involved, and stay for a while.

(3) Prevention. In my opinion, this is by far the most important thing we should be doing, and it is the thing we are doing the worst at. I believe it takes about the same amount of resources to get one person off of drugs as it takes to keep ten people from starting. It seems every organization, committee, group that I am a part of has the same message. The best and most effective thing we can do is to keep people from starting and become addicted. So if we know this, how are we doing? Not well.

We do have some great organizations here in the Cape, with great individuals, who are doing amazing things for their communities. A few examples are Community Cares, Big Brothers / Big Sisters, Whitney Pier Boys and Girls Club, Undercurrent Youth Centre, YMCA, and many more. While I do not speak on their behalf I do know their leadership spend significant time and energy just to stay operating and provide some of the best ‘addiction prevention’ programs in the area.

It may be assumed that these organizations receive funding to run programs, have staff, and stay open from government sources. In general, this is not the case at all. The vast majority of government funding is presently spent on dealing with addiction recovery. The organizations dealing with prevention are in constant fundraising activities and only work while they have staff and volunteers who are gifted in raising funds. Most of these incredible organizations are extremely underfunded and are only open because their leadership work tirelessly to keep them open.

I can only use our own centre for exact numbers. While we were building our centre we did receive funds for capital projects from every level of government which was extremely helpful. However, here is where government is lacking. We have been working on Undercurrent for nine years now. We have had between 10-12,000 visits from kids and youth this year (200 plus weekly). In those years the amount of federal money we have received for running programs, keeping the doors open, or having staff is zero. The amount of municipal funds we receive for the same things in the same time period is zero. In the same time period we did receive a provincial crime prevention grant of $1000 one year.

I use this as an example that in a community where perhaps millions are spent on dealing with addiction related issues in health care, addiction services, police services, etc we are putting almost no resources into what we say is the most important thing to do to in order to change out community, ‘Prevention.’ I am advocating for huge changes in this.

Dealing with addiction recovery, and not addiction prevention, is not bringing the community change we need. I totally believe in, and support addiction recovery programs. However, we need to stop the increase in the numbers becoming addicted.

What does addiction prevention look like? Safe hang out places. Introducing kids and youth to as many positive recreation, arts, social activities as possible. Letting young people have positive role models who will speak hope into their lives and be an ear to hear their struggles. To give options as to what healthy living and choice can look like. To provide activities in communities where there is not a lot for our young people to do. It really isn’t that complicated, but it takes work.

While I know prevention won’t stop all drug use I believe that if we want to see community transformation, and a downturn in the present drug use increases, we need to invest.

I am calling for all level of our government to rethink what they are doing here in the CBRM on this issue of prevention. However, government alone is not the answer, we need to each ask ourselves what are we personally doing? Are you involved with helping an organization? You can do this in a few ways. Volunteer, help fundraise, ask how you can help. Give. We should all do our part as individuals, organizations, and businesses. It is not about how much you give, together we can make a huge difference.

* This is part of what I am sharing at the Undercurrent Youth Centre fundraiser we are doing Saturday night. I want to persoanlly thank every person, business, and organization for your help and support. It is very much apprecaited. I hope this helps you understand how your support is helping to better our community. I believe Undercurrent is one of the few addiction prevention organizations for children and youth in the area.

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