Survey finds teen drug use in Ontario at an all time low

Published On December 14, 2017 | By HN Staff | News, Sci/Tech

By: Murissa Barrington

Teenagers are less interested in drugs and alcohol than their parents’ generation according to the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS).

In fact, the rates of teen drug use (cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes) are the lowest they’ve ever been.

The study, carried out by Health Canada and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), surveyed students from Grade 7 to Grade 12 in Ontario on their recreational drug use and found that today’s youth are continuing to follow the downward trend that started in 2001.

Marijuana use, a subject that’s been heavily discussed as the country’s legalization date creeps closer, went from 22 per cent of high school students in 2007 to 15 per cent this year.

Alcohol, which remains the most commonly used substance among teens, is now used by less than half of all students reporting they’ve had “more than a few sips”of alcohol in the past year.

Co-author and Senior Scientist with the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Dr.Robert Mann said he and the researchers were quite pleased with the results of the survey.

“Students these days are drinking less than they were 20 years ago,” Mann said. “For example, 20 years ago, about 66 per cent of students from grade 7 to 12 -which is who we survey- reported drinking alcohol in the past year and that’s down to 43 per cent now and that’s a good thing.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the OSDUHS and to celebrate the milestone, Mann says they decided to look at the long term trends since the survey was first introduced back in 1977.

Alcohol, cannabis and cigarette use continued to decline year over year, but some trends seemed to remain somewhat stable, particularly the stats on driving while high.

Mann said this may be due to a perception that smoking weed doesn’t affect your risk of collision or may even reduce it.

“From a research perspective, 20 years ago we really didn’t have any good evidence that cannabis influenced your chances of being in a collision,” Mann said. “But now we do, so that perception that, ‘I can drive safely if I’m using cannabis,’ is wrong and it could be a very hazardous one.”

In September, Premier Kathleen Wynne said that stiffer drug-impaired driving laws would be put in place ahead of recreational weed being legalized next July.

Wynne said there will be “zero-tolerance” for commercial drivers, drivers under the age of 21 and new drivers who are caught with any amount of drugs or alcohol in their system.

This graph shows reported drug use among students grade 9 – 12 in the past year. (OSDUHS)

One finding causing alarm for many is the percentage of high school students who’ve reported using fentanyl in the past year.

This year marks the first year fentanyl use was recorded in the survey and Mann says at first, they thought the figures would be too low to even report.

“We were hoping that would be the case with fentanyl, that the numbers would be too small for us to report, but unfortunately it’s not,” said Mann.

Almost 6,000 students across the province reported using the deadly opioid. It’s a number that may seem small but Mann said it is still concerning because the drug is dangerous.

“Seeing even that one per cent was certainly a surprise for me and certainly a cause for concern,” Mann said.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t increase any further and I think that maybe we need to be reinforcing the message that this is not a drug that you want to use recreationally.”

This graph shows reported drug use among students grade 7-12 in the past year. (OSDUHS)

Out of all of the substances students were surveyed about, the only substance that had a significant increase in the last 10 years was ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) medication.

Since it’s introduction to the survey in 2007, non-medical use of ADHD medication (i.e. Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta) has spiked from one per cent to 2.3 per cent in 2017.

“Young people refer to them as study drugs. They might help you study, they’re stimulant drugs and so on,” Mann said. “I think the concern is that these are powerful drugs. If you’re not taking them under appropriate medical supervision then you may be taking risks.”

Overall, Mann said the survey results show a positive trend in the next generation’s attitude towards drug use.

“The data seems to suggest that we’re looking at a generation that’s really quite health-conscious, and really is avoiding the risks of hazardous drug use better than the previous generations have done,” Mann said.

“I think that, for me, that’s impressive and a really positive thing to see.”

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