TORONTO — A “rave” party in Edmonton recently drew national attention when it was discovered that public health officials in the Alberta provincial capital were desperately tracking down party-goers to stem a rare tuberculosis outbreak traced to the rave.

Meanwhile, the Toronto police force recently established a special unit to deal with Ecstasy, an illegal and dangerous drug often distributed to young people at all-night raves. During 1999, at least three Toronto young people attending raves died from overdoses of the amphetamine-based drug. Public health officials in Toronto now report that an average of 20 young people are sent to hospital after each of these events.

Toronto rave organizers now routinely keep a team of paramedics on hand at local parties to respond immediately to Ecstasy overdoses and similar drug and alcohol emergencies.

Meanwhile, students in the Toronto archdiocese have started their own counteroffensive.

At Brother André Catholic Secondary School in Markham, north of Toronto, senior students are recruited to lead retreats for their peers focusing on the dangers of the rave scene and drug abuse.

Sophia Reynoso, 17, one of the students, said raves are all the rage. “Surprisingly, a lot of the eighth grade students I talk to find raves especially appealing,” she said. “In such cases, I use the experience of my friends to point out the dangers.”

In addition to the student leadership retreats at some Toronto-area high schools, the local Catholic school board has established a leadership team composed of representatives of the different student councils. The team meets monthly to discuss ways of promoting lifestyle choices based on Catholic values.

During its December meeting, student leaders heard from Joanne Banfield, coordinator of an innovative program designed to reduce risky behavior among young people. Known as the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Trauma in Youth (PARTY), the program is aimed primarily at 12-14 year olds, and is designed to reduce injury and death from avoidable accidents.

“How many students know that they might be getting into a dangerous situation, but are not assertive enough to back out?” asked Banfield.

She said PARTY has found that one of the most effective ways to reach young people is to have older teen-agers act as teachers and role models.

Now offered in 48 cities across Canada and the United States, the PARTY program features tours of hospital trauma units to allow students to see the devastating effects of alcohol and drug abuse, and other risky behaviors.

Robert McCarty, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), said he welcomes these kinds of efforts to promote Catholic students as ambassadors for healthier living.

“There's little doubt that one of the gifts [of young people] is their ability to be role models for those who might not be open to safe lifestyle messages from an adult or other authority figure.”

Mike Mastromatteo writes from Toronto.