SAINT JOHN (GNB) – A pilot project is being launched to help communities find ways to reduce substance use among youth.

The five-year project is being done in collaboration with Planet Youth, an Icelandic research consultancy; community and health promotion partners will work together to find solutions that are unique to each community’s specific needs.

“We are following through on our commitment to help reduce substance use among young people,” said Health Minister Bruce Fitch. “The next generation of New Brunswickers has a bright future ahead. By working together as communities, we can help them be more resilient and reach their full potential.”

The provincial government is committing $255,000 per year to the project over five years.

Four sites have been chosen: Saint John, Woodstock, Kent County and the Acadian Peninsula.

The Planet Youth Guidance Program adapts and implements the Icelandic Prevention Model, which is an evidence- and community-based process credited with lowering substance use in Iceland over the past 20 years.

Access to addiction and mental health services is one of five action areas in the provincial health plan, Stabilizing Health Care: An Urgent Call to Action. This pilot project was one of the plan’s commitments. It is also a key initiative in the Department of Health’s Inter-Departmental Addiction and Mental Health Action Plan and aligns with the government’s commitment to develop long-term programs related to youth and addictions.

“We believe that the strength of a community is based on the well-being of the people who live there,” said Planet Youth chief executive officer Pall Ríkhardsson. “That is core to the aims of Planet Youth, to improve the future of youth through an adaptable process that is data-driven, evidence-informed and focused on prevention and upstream solutions. That is why we are pleased to be working with communities in New Brunswick.”

Planet Youth’s Guidance Program aims to strengthen protective factors, mitigate risk factors and build healthy community environments by focusing on things such as family, peer groups, extracurricular activities and school well-being.

It also involves the building of community-led coalitions, which include practitioners, researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders concerned with the health and well-being of young people.

The project will begin this fall with the development of community action teams in each of the four pilot sites.

“We know 51 per cent of New Brunswickers have indicated they are at risk of developing negative mental health impacts due to the social isolation, stress and economic impacts of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic,” said Fitch. “That is why we are taking action to prevent addictions and mental health issues.”

The pilot project is one of several initiatives and actions intended to address mental health and addictions issues among youth:

·         One-at-a-time therapy has been implemented in all health zones, with the goal of offering services in all child and youth teams by December.

·         The Bridge the gapp website was launched in late 2020 as a mental health resource.

·         Funding has been provided to both regional health authorities for the addition of 51.3 full-time equivalent positions in emergency departments. The regional health authorities have also implemented processes for suicide risk assessments.

·         $380,000 has been provided to ACCESS Open Minds.

·         Enhanced resources have been provided for the delivery of mobile crisis services.

·         Increased funding ($460,000) has been allocated to secure health professionals to deliver social pediatrics services.

·         $800,000 has been allocated to increase diagnostic capacity, services and support at the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Centre of Excellence.

·         $390,000 has been provided to Partners for Youth and Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick to establish a youth advisory council.