At Carleton Place Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting held on March 12 2019, council and staff received an update on the Planet Youth Lanark County initiative. Municipal Drug Strategy Committee chair, David Somppi delivered a presentation to outline the progress being made to reduce substance and drug use among youth in the region.
He reminded everyone that his committee’s efforts were based on a successful model that originated in Iceland over 20 years ago. In that nation, abuse of alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco was at an all time high, giving them the unenviable ranking of having the worst record in the entire European Union with almost 50% of high school students reporting regular use of those substances. Today, after a series of changes and initiatives, that rate of use has dropped to only 4%; the lowest in the EU. Somppi is heading a committee comprised of a wide variety of stakeholders representing the entire county looking to replicate Iceland’s success locally.
In his presentation he stressed that Planet Youth Lanark County will not be dictating what type of projects or actions any community should undertake, but instead will support their leaders with data and evidence-based practices. He noted that Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam has provided her support of this approach. Planet Youth has been meeting with school board officials over the last several months to negotiate a way to poll grade 10 students in order to gather data needed to provide communities with a path forward. Somppi remarked that these meetings have been going well and he hoped that the first round of surveys could be completed within a year.
Councilor Linda Seccaspina questioned Somppi on the viability of instituting a student curfew; one of the programs that Iceland found helpful in their journey. He replied that while curfews did provide positive results in Iceland, it hadn’t been determined if that was a tactic that should be employed in Lanark. Seccaspina also questioned the ability of local communities to provide subsidies to area youth for recreation and cultural pursuits as is done in Iceland, and again Somppi noted that Planet Youth Lanark County hadn’t made come to those conclusions as no data has yet been collected or analyzed. He reiterated that any decisions on programs or initiatives would be up to individual communities upon receiving the survey data reports.
Somppi closed by asking council to enlist and promote support for Lanark’s municipal drug strategy committees as they have for Carleton Place’s version. He noted that the town had always provided help for his group and that it remained active but other towns had seen their committees dwindle in volunteer numbers and programs over the decade that they have been in existence.