A local community group is teaming up with two substance organisations to teach Larne’s young people how to “wise up to highs.”
The Factory Community Forum, together with Preventing Addiction Larne (PAL) and Action for Community Transformation (ACT) are collaborating on the seven-week programme, which will launch this summer.
The free scheme aims to educate young people aged 12-18 years on how to tackle drugs, both legal and illegal, and anti-social behaviour.
The initiative, funded through the DSD’s “Areas at Risk” programme, will involve a series of talks, one-to-one counselling for those who wish it, and an excursion.
Factory Community Forum community development worker Gareth McConnell explained: “Our three groups will be pooling our experiences to try and engage with as many people as possible. We have run drugs awareness courses before with the Hope Centre in Ballymena and at Larne High School.
“The young people responded well but we were looking at having a longer course rather than a one-off and there is the added option of counselling with this course.”
Gareth explained that the scheme will involve a mixture of approaches to help inform young people on the dangers of drugs, presented in a fun way which they can relate to.
“The first five sessions on drugs misuse and legal highs are being delivered by Jim Weir,” he revealed.
“Jim is a youth worker with many years experience who works for FASA. He makes the issue relevant and his talks don’t even seem like a course.
“The sixth session on anti-social behaviour is being run by Dr William Mitchell from NI Alternatives. His organisation deals with former young offenders who have been through the court and it helps to reintegrate them into society.
“The seventh session is a talk by David Foster who reveals his own personal story of facing drugs and alcohol addiction. He has been delivering a lot of talks in schools, telling how he hit rock bottom, lost his family and the effect it had on his business.
“It will show young people the reality of legal highs and their full effects. Now he has turned his life around, he has his own business, is married and has become a Christian.”
The scheme will conclude with a day out for participants at Adventure NI.
PAL Chairperson Annette White added: “We want to show young people they can get a natural high from activities, rather than a synthetic one from drugs.”
The local representatives say that young people must still be educated on the dangers of drugs including legal highs, despite the Westminster government’s “Psychoactive Substances Bill” which proposes a blanket ban on the substances.
ACT member Gavin Johnston commented: “I believe the legislation has worked well in the Republic.
“I think young people are taken in by the fact the substances are still legal at the moment therefore they’re not breaking the law by taking them.
PAL chairperson Annette White added: “The law would prevent young people aged 12 and 13 who don’t yet have credit cards going into legal high shops to buy the drugs, but others could get the substances off the internet.
“An adult recently found a packet of unopened legal highs at the bonfire beside the play park in Greenland Drive.
“If it had been found by a child it would have had very serious consequences.
“The sooner you start drug-proofing your kids the better.
“At the age of 12 they are starting their post-primary education, so it is an ideal age.
“This programme is not just for young people who are taking the drugs, but also for those who might get the opportunity to take them in the future.
“The programme will be delivered in a fun and informative way, in language that the kids can relate to. “It won’t be like sitting at school.”
The local support group workers are hoping that concerned parents and young people themselves will turn out in force to support the new programme.
“There’s no limit on the number of young people who can book to come on the programme and we would love to pack out Greenland Community Centre,” said Factory Forum Community Development worker Gareth McConnell.
The “Get wise to highs” course will be held at Greenland Community centre.
Sessions will take place on July 8, 22, 29 and August 5, 12, 19 and 26.
Sessions will run from 5pm-7pm. To sign up, contact Gareth McConnell on 02828276210 or 0775336 8278.
Or contact PAL on 02828273335.