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Students schooled in drug and alcohol awareness

Queen Elizabeth II Public School Grade 5 student Jeremiah McLaughlin said he will never text and drive, nor will he smoke or do drugs. That was his promise following the Racing Against Drugs event at the Lionel E.
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Jeremiah McLaughlin, a Grade 5 student at Queen Elizabeth II Public School, takes on the safety moose from the RCMP on April 11 in a game of Need for Speed on Playstation 2. Students from all four school boards took part in Racing Against Drugs, an event designed to teach the consequences of using drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Photo by Arron Pickard.
Queen Elizabeth II Public School Grade 5 student Jeremiah McLaughlin said he will never text and drive, nor will he smoke or do drugs.

That was his promise following the Racing Against Drugs event at the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre in Azilda on April 11. Racing Against Drugs is an awareness campaign targeting students in grades 5 and 6. It was anticipated that 600 students from the four local school boards are expected to have taken part in the event by the end of April 12.

“We learned about how drugs can affect your brain, how it can damage your body and weaken your muscles,” McLaughlin said.

The 10-year-old said he sees a lot of people driving around the city while talking or texting on their cellphones. He said he even watched as two vehicles got into a fender bender. He said both drivers had been distracted – one was smoking, the other he said he saw texting.

Driving home the dangers involved with risky behaviours like texting and driving, or using drugs and alcohol is what the event is designed to do, according to Denis St. Pierre, chair of the Racing Against Drugs subcommittee for the Valley East Community Action Network.

The Valley East CAN invited the London RCMP detachment to stage the event again this year. Officers travelled to Sudbury in 2008 for the first Racing Against Drugs event in the city, and it had a very positive effect, St. Pierre said.

“We have the kids learn messages about injury prevention, as well as drug and alcohol use and healthy lifestyle choices,” St. Pierre said.

The two-day event provides a number of pit stops, each of which comes with a seven-minute interactive presentation. For example, to demonstrate the effect of tobacco on a person's lungs, organizers brought in two sets of pigs' lungs, one that was free of tobacco, the other that was subjected to tobacco to imitate a smoker's lungs.

Other presenters taught students refusal skills, because many youth want to say no to drugs and alcohol, but might not know just how to do it, St. Pierre said.

Other topics included bullying and drug identification, as well as injury prevention, which is where the video games came into play. Students got a first-hand feel for what it's like to drive and talk on a cellphone or face some other kind of distraction that could result in a collision.

The lessons taught through Racing Against Drugs are similar to what students learn in the classroom, but the event provide a fun environment, where participants are more likely to remember what they are hearing, St. Pierre said.

“We need to get to the kids before they start using (drugs and alcohol), because once they start using, it's much more difficult to curb those behaviours,” he said. “This is the best age to arm them with that information. It's preventative, as opposed to reactive.”

Drug education is a trend that has changed over the years, he said. Twenty years ago, similar groups would likely have targeted teenagers in this type of event, but kids today are using drugs at a younger age. While it would be difficult to pinpoint an exact reason for that, “we want them to be more aware of the consequences, so they can be more educated in saying no.”

“We used to think that it was only in high school that kids would start using drugs,” he said. In the past, we might have thought that by showing them and teaching them about drugs at a younger age, they might be more inclined to use it, but research has shown that is not the case.”

It's not that a greater percentage of kids are using drugs than kids from 10, 20 or 30 years ago, it's about the same, he said, Now there are different types of drugs, and there's a lot more emphasis placed on preventing kids from using drugs, so it might just seem like there are more kids using.

Posted by Arron Pickard

Arron Pickard

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