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Engaging Youth Key To Reducing Drug And Alcohol Problems

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The statistics around young New Zealanders with alcohol and other drug problems make for sobering reading, say health workers.

According to recent research, nearly 10 per cent of 16-24 year olds suffer from an alcohol or drug use disorder, 39 per cent have used cannabis and a quarter of young people who drink do so to get drunk. It is estimated that 80 per cent of Youth Court appearances have alcohol or drug-related issues connected to their offending.

Robert Steenhuisen, Regional Manager of Community Alcohol and Drug Services at Waitemata DHB, says increasing numbers of young offenders are being sent to treatment services and more needs to be done to intervene and help them overcome or prevent these problems.

"Substance misuse has devastating effects upon youth, their families and the wider community. Many of these kids come from broken and dysfunctional backgrounds and use alcohol and other drugs as a way of dealing with their troubles.

"Unfortunately this only makes their problems worse and often leads them to crime and other forms of anti-social behaviour."

But the news isn't all bad. In fact some of it is very good. Steenhuisen says there are treatment programmes that are having incredibly encouraging results because they are based on an engagement model that works well with young people.

"If you want to successfully intervene with a young person affected by drugs and alcohol you need to engage with them, build up trust and help them find their own motivation to make changes.

"You need to relate to them on their terms, and within their communities and networks. That's the only thing that's going to work."

He cites as an example the Amplify pilot programme being delivered in four Auckland schools by Odyssey House Youth Community Services. Young people affected by alcohol and drugs are invited to join the sessions that use role-playing, rapping and other youth-friendly activities to explore all aspects of life, including substance use.

Each child is helped to set and achieve their own goals, and they can communicate with the counsellors at any stage via texts. Odyssey House Chief Executive Chris Kalin says the programme has had incredible results and that two thirds of young people leaving the programme do so because they've achieved their goals.

"Young people and school staff are universally positive about how well Amplify has worked. Originally it was aimed at students at risk of being excluded from school because of their drug or alcohol use, but many young people are now joining the programme to address their problems before they escalate."

Independent research into the Amplify model of service delivery reveals participants are more likely to remain at school and less likely to engage in anti-social behaviour like drug dealing, violence, and bullying.

Substance use reduced or stayed the same in 80 percent of tobacco and cannabis cases, and in 97 percent of cases involving other drugs. Similar results are being achieved by the Rubicon programme which runs in some Northland schools. Participating children sign contracts with the school and police to remain drug-free.

Strong links based on trust are formed between clients and counsellors, and nearly all children complete the programme successfully. Steenhuisen says the success of programmes like these shows that it really is possible to intervene and help young people change before their alcohol or drug use lands them in prison or causes them to hurt others or themselves.

"Programmes based on engagement that involve at risk young people and their communities are a genuine and workable solution to a very real problem that affects everyone. But there just aren't enough of them to go around.

"If we are serious about reducing the devastating effects substance misuse has on society, we'll invest our time and money to establish more of them, and make them available to all young people who need them, not just to a lucky few. "That would be a positive investment into all our futures."

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