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Legal pot fuelling demand for homegrown teaching program

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Cathy Dobson

A made-in-Sarnia program that informs youth about substance abuse has been in big demand since Canada legalized marijuana in October.

The 10-week Choices program created by Sarnia-Lambton Rebound has been recognized by Ontario’s Ministry of Health as a “best practice,” says executive director Carrie McEachran.

Rebound was delivering Choices in Sarnians and to a handful of Ontario health centres, counselling agencies and First Nations.

Carrie McEachran

But when cannabis became legal the inquiries started pouring in from beyond Ontario.

“We’re being bombarded with requests,” said McEachran.

Rebound was approached by the ministry about a harm reduction program in 2010, said Andraya MacMillan, who is the Choices provincial lead in Sarnia.

“So we combined a few of our programs and piloted Choices at six locations. After a year, it was evaluated and the province decided the quality of our program and its success should be a standard in Ontario.”

Fourteen organizations have already purchased Choices from Rebound including Youth Justice in Windsor, CMHA in York and newcomer organizations in the GTA.

The program targets youth aged 14 to 17 and generates conversations about how they choose friends and cope with stress.

“We talk about communicating, making decisions and goal setting,” said MacMillan.

There’s also education around cannabis, prescription drugs and alcohol.

“We talk about harm reduction too,” MacMillan said. “We discuss behavioural scenarios and how they’d deal with different feelings, find relaxation and coping mechanisms.”

Andraya MacMillan

MacMillan introduces the Choices program and trains facilitators at agencies that purchase the program for $5,000, with a $500 annual membership. That includes ongoing support from Sarnia-Lambton Rebound and annual retreats to Sarnia.

“The program changes as substances change in the community,” said McEachran. “Currently the easy-to-get drugs are marijuana, opioids and alcohol.

“The week after marijuana was legalized our phones started ringing off the hook.”

The Choices manual has been translated into Mandarin and French.

Rebound also runs a Choices Junior program for ages 8 to 12. It’s meant to educate younger kids before they’re confronted with drug and alcohol opportunities.

Rebound is offering a new Choices and Choices Junior starting in January funded by the local United Way.

Parents who want to arm their children and teens with information can contact Rebound’s intake co-ordinator at 519-344-2841. Sessions are held weekly for 10 weeks.

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