Nova Scotia Dept. of Education Says “Only a very small percentage of high school students abuse prescription drugs”.

It has been over one year since the prescription drug abuse epidemic in the Annapolis Valley hit the media. Since then I have been contacted from parents all over Nova Scotia who have lost their children to accidental prescription drug overdoses. Most common Dilaudid or Methadone. I have voiced my concerns to the Minister of Education Ramona Jennex many times about updating the drug education in schools to include prescription drug abuse. You will see in the response below there is no plan to do that.

The letter even says:

“Only a very small percentage of high school students abuse prescription drugs”.

Do they consider 20% of teenagers a small percentage ? Those are the stats our government has been using in T.V. commercials against prescription drug abuse.

The recent report released April 23rd 2012 on Nova Scotia Mental Health and Addictions Strategy states :

There is an alarming prevalence of opiate use, particularly among young Nova Scotians

The Minister’s response also says:

“Even though, www.unwasted.ca was not developed for high school students, it would be more appropriate given the choice as it is based on Nova Scotia experiences”

Funny these ads were mentioned as being based on Nova Scotia experiences. The one pertaining to prescription drug abuse is about abusing OxyContin , a drug that is not even on the Canadian market since March 2012.

Here is the trailer to the film Overtaken which I suggested might be a great resource to Nova Scotia schools . It was quickly shot down by the Education Department. This documentary is being shown in many Florida schools as we speak. It only costs $10 per copy ! The Minister of Education feels the need to spend 500,000 dollars on orange lunch bags ( her political parties color ) but no need for prescription drug abuse education in Nova Scotian schools.

Dear Amy:

Further to my March 27, 2012, email to you, I have received an update
from my staff regarding where we are with the review of Overtaken and
related work in the area of addressing the prescription drug issue.

The Department of Education has a number of video resources pertaining
to substance abuse currently available, a list of which I attach to this

My staff continue to work with colleagues in the Department of Health
and Wellness, Addiction Services, to strengthen our curriculum in terms
of effectively addressing substance abuse issues, including the alarming
abuse of prescription drugs, and to identify resources to support
teaching and learning in this regard.

With specific reference to Overtaken, we considered carefully if it
would be applicable and age appropriate for Physically Active Living 11.
Some of our evaluators thought the video had potential as a leaning
resource. However, several concerns have been expressed in the course of
the evaluation process. 

While the video may be targeted at youth, our evaluators felt it is not
reflective of local substance use patterns. Only a very small percentage
of high school students abuse prescription drugs, and the video has no
meaningful discussion of the role of alcohol in their problematic
substance use. Drug education materials should be focused on both risk
and protective factors. There was little focus about the protective

The video is not interactive, and best practices recommend drug
education emphasize student-to-student interactivity, employing
role-plays, Socratic questioning, simulations, brainstorming,
cooperative learning, and peer-to-peer discussion. It is unclear how the
video could facilitate any of these things. My concern is that watching
a video like this may unintentionally ‘normalize’ prescription drug
abuse among high school students in Nova Scotia. There were no messages
on ways to promote safety and minimizing harm. Even though,
www.unwasted.ca was not developed for high school students, it would
be more appropriate given the choice as it is based on Nova Scotia
experiences and includes messages on how to get help. Another video
using Nova Scotian women in recovery is shorter and in a facilitated
discussion among targeted older students might be more appropriate

The evaluation also noted the video portrays a mainly middle-class and
advantaged, non-diverse population, with which many of our students may
not identify. An Evaluation for Bias is required for all resources
considered for use in public schools. One of these evaluators commented
as follows: “I have watched the video in its entirety, and cannot
recommend it for use in our schools in any course, at any grade level. I
find the video a ‘one note’ scare story that does not examine the
complexity of drug abuse and addiction. The stories are very similar,
become repetitive, and do not address solutions or support. Also, I
agree with the observation that there is little or no diversity in the
people portrayed in the video, and, as a result, many of our students
may not see the video as relevant to them. Lastly, I suspect that the
simplistic ‘just say no’ message in the video-which I think has been
proven to be ineffective in the United States-perpetuates the notion
that drug abuse and addiction is a function of a ‘weakness’ in the
addict, and, as such, is a message contrary to our disease-based
approach to addiction in Canada.”

One resource that we believe to be particularly effective and which
does adhere to best practices in drug education that may be of interest
to you is A Question of Influence: A Drug Education Curriculum
Supplement for Teachers of Healthy Living, Grades 7-9. This
comprehensive resource which addresses many factors which can influence
decisions to use drugs was developed by our colleagues in the then
Department of Health Promotion and Protection, Addiction Services and in
collaboration with the Department of Education. Feedback from teachers
and students in the development stage were positive and the learning
resource provides teachers with the context of substance use among youth
in Nova Scotia and includes lessons that are engaging and meaningful for
students and their real life experiences and messaging around drug use.
You may link to the following address to access this curriculum
supplement, the best practice document, and other information on this
resource. <http://www.druged.ednet.ns.ca/> It has been provided to all
teachers of Healthy Living 7-9. 

The protective factors that support healthy decision-making reside
within Health Education at the Primary-6 grade levels and Healthy Living
7-9. This curriculum has recently been redeveloped based on best
practices in health education to address priority health areas of the
21st century-mental and emotional health, physical activity, healthy
eating, injury and disease prevention, sexual health, and substance use
and gambling.

Beyond the instructional program, much work is taking place to address
the abuse of prescription drugs, alcohol, and other substances through
our Health Promoting Schools partnerships with the Departments of
Health, Justice, and Community Services at the provincial level and with
District Health Authorities, local addiction services offices, and other
community partners at the regional level. 

Youth Health Centres too are very important in helping to educate our
students and to provide appropriate guidance and referrals. Currently
youth can access a Youth Health Centre at 52 locations across Nova
Scotia. These centres provide young people with health education, health
promotion, information and referral, follow-up and support, as well as
some clinical services. The majority are located in high schools across
the province. 

Of course, School Guidance Counsellors also support students in this
regard and are often the most trusted adult in the school to whom
troubled youth turn to discuss their own issues and problems and those
of their friends. Also, the RCMP and regional police services provide
School Liaison Officers in several areas across the province. I believe
that these officers are great assets in helping schools and their
students to understand and to address issues associated with substance

The Department of Education has committed to working with education
partners to investigate the issue of drugs in schools. We are in the
process of establishing a committee whose members will include
representatives of the RCMP and municipal police agencies across the
province, the Department of Health and Wellness, the Department of
Justice, and the Department of Community Services. The Committee will
bring in experts on an ad hoc basis to provide information, data, and
research re best practices. 

The Department will also support the implementation of the province’s
Mental Health and Addictions Strategy in terms of actions pertaining to

Amy, it is clear that, while work is well underway, we have so much
more work to do in this area. Please know that we very much appreciate
your suggestion that Overtaken may be a useful resource. While we have
decided not to pursue the use of this particular video at this time, we
will continue to seek quality resources that address this very important
issue. I respect so much your passion and your commitment to saving
lives. I have asked Ann Blackwood, Executive Director, English Program
Services, to follow up with you directly with details regarding how
substance abuse is addressed in the curriculum and what other
initiatives are underway to educate and support youth in this regard. 


Ramona Jennex
Minister of Education

c Ann Blackwood

2 thoughts on “Nova Scotia Dept. of Education Says “Only a very small percentage of high school students abuse prescription drugs”.

    1. But they sure do make some noise when they are told ‘only 20%’ of their budget is being cut!!! Why is it when it comes down to dollars and cents 20% is huge, but when it comes down to children and lives 20% is such a small number?

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