If youth substance use and addiction are to be addressed in the North, youth have to be engaged and involved meaningfully in how the issues are taught.

The GNWT Department of Health and Social Services is touring an exciting new health promotion workshop called the The Dope Experience to most of the territory’s schools. The goal is to help bring awareness through engaging and hands-on experiences while discussing substance abuse, which includes cannabis abuse, as well as promoting mental health and harm reduction.

The Dope Experience, a new engaging workshop that is launched its tour last week to most schools in the Northwest Territories, will help youth learn about the implications of substance abuse, harm reduction and mental health in engaging and hands-on ways.
photo courtesy of GNWT

The department sent out a news release on Thursday announcing the official launch of The Dope Experience.

Alana Kronstal, manager of social marketing with the department is the program lead on The Dope Experience. She said the department realizes that the youth have to be directly involved in the learning process if substance use education makes a difference in northern communities.

“We were successful in our grant proposal and getting funding for a three-year period for basically cannabis education and that is what kick-started it,” she said. “However, as we engaged with communities earlier in this project, we learned that cannabis needed to be contextualized with other substances . It is very rare that people are just using cannabis and only have concerns or questions about cannabis use.

“So it is really about substance use as a whole.”

She said The Dope Experience has been about a year in the making and that the department took advantage of Health Canada funding that was available in and around the date of the legalization of cannabis. The federal government is providing $1.8 million over three years to the territorial government for a “poly-substance education programming.”

Kronstal said the department has been consulting at various stages with communities leading up to this week’s launch. She said cannabis-related paper materials have been sent to communities and representatives have attended community health fairs throughout the territory over the last year. A planning session last March brought 30 people from across the territory that included teachers, youth, artists, health-care providers, social workers and other community leaders.

The name actually comes from a suggestion made by a 17-year-old Behchoko student participant who called the whole experience “Dope,” Kronstal explained.

The workshop is also partnering with the NWT Association of Communities, Western Arctic Moving Pictures and other artists to design an engaging workshop.

“We want to have a setting where participants are not just sitting in classroom being talked at but are active in this conversation and that is something we heard clearly from youth in particular,” Kronstal said. “They don’t want to be talked at but want engaging ways to learn and want workshops and hands on learning kinds of ways of being educated on their health. They also want to be able to help others.”

Diane Thom, minister of Health and Social Services. stated in the news release that the department is aiming to have youth more directly involved in the process of reducing addictions and improving mental health, Kronstal said.

“We see our youth as change makers in community wellness,” she stated. “Through this workshop, we hope that our youth will lead the way towards education and engagement around substance use and mental health in their home communities. With a harm-reduction, arts-based approach, youth will lead meaningful discussions and activities in fun and engaging ways.”

Beginning last week (Nov. 18 to 22) at Liidlii Kue Regional High School in Fort Simpson and Chief Julian Yendo School in Wrigley, department officials will be leading the program to 31 schools and institutions across the territory.

The tour will wrap up during the week of May 17 to 22 in Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells and Yellowknife.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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