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Grade 9 too late for students in Nova Scotia to learn about opioid dangers: advocate

Amy Graves lost her brother Josh in 2011 after he died from an accidental overdose of hydromorphone.

Advocate Amy Graves lost her brother to opiate overdose.

Kevin Tuong / Metro Order this photo

Advocate Amy Graves lost her brother to opiate overdose.

The rapidly changing opioid landscape means Nova Scotia students need an updated school curriculum delivered at an earlier age.

That’s what the president of Get Prescription Drugs Off the Street Society has said in a letter to the provincial government.

Amy Graves lost her brother Josh in 2011 after he died from an accidental overdose of hydromorphone in the Annapolis Valley.

When the current curriculum was created in 2014, she said illicit opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil weren’t prevalent in the province. In addition, she said it’s essential students know how to reduce the risks associated with substance use.

“It’s great that there’s lots of prevention discussion in our schools, but I think an important thing we have to acknowledge is that not every student will be abstinent from drugs and alcohol,” Graves said.

“It’s great to tell them and give them strategies on how to be, but we also have to acknowledge that some will use and they need the information to reduce their risk.”

Among the key pieces of information Graves would like to see implemented or enhanced within the current curriculum is awareness of Naloxone, the importance of not using alone, and information about the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act.

“The Good Samaritan Law is crucial for our youth to know. If they are at a party, if they are in a situation where someone has used drugs and is in medical distress, they do not have to fear getting in trouble by calling for help,” she said.

Graves pointed to the most recent Nova Scotia Student Drug Use Survey completed in 2013. In Grade 7, four per cent of students were using non-medical pain pills, That jumped to 11.3 per cent in Grade 9, 13.9 per cent in Grade 10, and 16.4 per cent in Grade 12.

She said it’s not until Grade 9 that the curriculum covers personal use and the potential harms of opioid use. With Grade 7 students reporting the use of opioid pain killers more than alcohol or tobacco, Graves thinks serious discussion needs to take place earlier.

“With things like alcohol and marijuana the smell is harder to hide. Illicit opioids are easier to hide, easier to conceal and parents and teachers might not know the symptoms of use or recognize those signs,” she said.

“The three most dangerous words are ‘not my kid.’ Overdose addiction doesn’t discriminate and every family I talk to says I never thought this would happen to us. Schools and parents need to have these conversations.”

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