Fight addiction in youth – a guest post by Cindy Filipenko

Cindy Filipenko is a Pemberton-based writer – her insight and way with words always make me stop and think. Whether she’s writing about local organic farmers, feisty throat singer Tanya Tagaq, how to be more engaged as a citizen, or how to make it as a freelance writer, her smarts and passion shine through. You can follow her on twitter, at her blog, or in her regular column in the Question, which she gave permission to reproduce here. It’s a Whistler take on the issue…but the “aha” moment is profound for all of us.

features_featurestory1-1If you haven’t read the feature story in last week’s Pique, go grab it now.

“Marty’s Story,” by Alison Taylor, acknowledges the fact that Whistler has a drug problem. The feature focuses on the death of 19-year-old Marty Janson, an Australian temporary worker who died of a cocaine overdose last September. While Janson’s story is tragic, many young people develop problems with drugs, with abuse of cheap and plentiful cocaine being a common problem, partly because its use has been normalized.

Due to proliferation of more dangerous synthetic drugs out there like meth, over the years, cocaine’s reputation has been remediated. It’s now seen as a benign, recreational drug, sort of like pot-plus. It’s powdered confidence, not a dirty speedy drug like crack or meth; it’s a drug that the middle class can get behind.

Whether the choice of weekend warriors, stressed out hospitality folks with disposable tips or an edgy addition to any celebration, for many folks coke is it. Given that we’re a resort that caters to middle-class, weekend warriors, is home to an abundance of stressed out hospitality workers and hosts celebrations, it would be naïve to believe there isn’t easy access to cocaine in Whistler.

But this piece isn’t about stopping the flood of drugs into the area or launching an ineffective “just say no” campaign. This column is about taking steps to reduce the likelihood that another young person dies alone of a drug overdose or suffers the long-term effects of an addiction. It’s about reinstating — and then increasing — the funding for Late & Unique Nighttime Alternatives (LUNA), the municipally funded program operated by the Whistler Youth Centre that created alternative social events for youth 18 and over. They did cool things like movies at Lost Lake, but more importantly they provided social connection. Obviously, more LUNA funding isn’t a panacea for our drug problem, but it is a tangible positive action.

Here’s why: Up until Jan. 23 I held the assumption that addiction was a disease, something that happened when maladaptive coping mechanisms got out of hand. Then I read Johann Hari’s “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Found, And It’s Not

What You Think” in the Huffington Post.

The piece informed me that addiction has its roots in something far simpler: loneliness.

Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, came to this conclusion after three years of research that included a 50,000 km journey and lab tests examining addictive behaviour in rats. The original ’70s study showed that left to its own devices a rat would choose opiate-laced water over unadulterated H20. Hari built on the two water bottle experiment by providing a larger, more interesting environment that included other rats. Socialized and engaged with their environment, few rats became addicted.

If at its core, addiction is a response to physical and emotional isolation, shouldn’t we be taking simple steps such as reinvigorating a program that likely kept a lot of our youth workforce connected?

On their own and possibly away from home for the first time, the thousands of young workers who flood the resort each year are vulnerable. They feel disconnected, homesick and lonely. Not that feeling loneliness is exclusive to young resort workers. A British study of 18 to 34 year olds released this past summer reported that 27 per cent felt chronically lonely. That’s one in four. And that’s criminal.

The reasons for social disconnect and its resulting loneliness range from the model of the nuclear family to social media. We can begin to repair this disconnect by supporting organizations, like LUNA, that bring young people together.

This column ran in the Whistler Question on January 27. 

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