Funding to provide addictions supports to campuses

Post-secondary students in Waterloo Region will have on-campus help when it comes to addictions through new provincial funding.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) of Waterloo Wellington received funding to have on-campus addictions support workers as part of a provincewide opioid funding strategy two weeks ago at an announcement in Kitchener.

While the details have not yet been worked out, Walter Mittelstaedt, director of campus wellness at the University of Waterloo, said he’s excited to see what the CMHA will have to offer campuses.

Mittelstaedt said opioids have not been a major concern for the university, but it is an issue they continue to monitor, considering its prominence and growth in the community.

As of Nov. 11, there have been 580 overdose-related calls in Waterloo Region, up from last year’s year-to-date total of 461. As of Oct. 24, 55 people have died as a result of overdoses in Waterloo Region.

“We are aware that there are some illegal drugs on campus, probably about the same level as any other post-secondary institution,” said Mittelstaedt, adding that most of the abuse issues include either alcohol or marijuana.

The University of Waterloo has counselling in place to deal with all mental health issues and they are able to refer students to outside community groups.

Mittelstaedt said with the CMHA program, it is likely that those students would not have to be referred into the community.

Harry Whyte, chief executive officer of Ray of Hope, an organization that deals with youth addictions as well as other social issues, said while it is rare compared to other substances, opioids and harder drugs are creeping into diets of young students.

“Most of the young people that we have coming in for assistance with our programs; alcohol is the biggest issue that we see, but we kind of set that aside because it’s the government that sells it,” said Whyte.

Whyte adds that recently, he has heard of youth — specifically high school students — taking Xanax, a powerful tranquillizer, and alcohol together, which can easily lead to an overdose.

Whyte said the drug cartels that supply drugs like Xanax are trying to get youth more comfortable with taking pills so that it can open more revenue streams.

“Rather than having to go get cocaine out of South America, they can make these pills right here,” said Whyte. “I think that’s a frightening perspective.”

While it is expected for youth to experiment with drugs, such as marijuana, Whyte said it can quickly spiral out of control.

“There are a whole range of kids who experiment with smoking pot and drinking … but it becomes problematic for some of them,” he said. “Those are the young people that we need to get into treatment and give them support to make better decisions.”


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