What’s even more surprising than the statistics on East Kootenay teens revealed by the McCreary Centre Society’s 2013 Adolescent Health Survey are the comments by Summit Youth Centre program co-ordinator Kelsey Prichard in Steve Hubrecht’s story on page 3. “I’m not surprised that teens in this region are using drugs and alcohol more than teens in other regions. It does surprise me that that rate has gone down. I haven’t noticed a decrease in usage of substances here in Invermere. We still have a long way to go,” she said.

The Summit Youth Centre does a lot of good work for youth in the valley, giving them a safe space to congregate in the evenings, holding events, fundraising for youth-oriented programs… but, clearly, not enough is being done if the person overseeing these operations doesn’t have much faith in a study that reports substance use among teenagers in the region is decreasing.

A few different factors must be contributing to this situation. First and foremost, the accessibility is there. If use isn’t decreasing, then it’s too easy for teens to get their hands on alcohol, tobacco and marijuana (the latter being the only illicit drug noted in the survey when in reality, drug use presumably includes a range of street drugs). Secondly, if substance use isn’t decreasing, this indicates a social acceptance among students that substance use or experimentation is a cultural norm. Furthermore, any awareness or education programs targeting the problem are obviously not effective enough, so a new strategy is needed.

Here, in the Columbia Valley, enhanced community support for the Summit Youth Centre is one place to start. Another avenue is to cater specifically to youth and teens when organizing local festivals — bouncy castles and face painting won’t stop a group of teens from sneaking off with a six-pack and pack of smokes during a community event. And through sharing real life stories at special school presentations, local role models could help dispel the Hollywood glamour and convey how uncool and debilitating substance use can actually be.