Canadian kids smoke more pot than cigarettes: report

OTTAWA — By the time they’re 14, many Canadian youth have done it all — cigarettes, drugs and alcohol — so a new report on substance abuse and addiction should serve as a “call to action” to change that, the organization behind the research says.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse says Canadians need to pay closer attention to the facts that the average age when a child smokes a cigarette for the first time is about 12, 13 when he or she uses alcohol and gets drunk and 14 for first-time drug use.
In a report released Wednesday, titled Substance Abuse in Canada: Youth in Focus, the CCSA outlines gaps in Canada’s overall approach to dealing with these worrying statistics and it suggests several strategies to plug the holes.
The report paints an alarming portrait of drug and alcohol use by youth. By the time they are in their first year of high school, about two-thirds of students had consumed alcohol, according to one survey. Another survey of youth age 15-24 showed that 83% were currently drinking or had consumed alcohol within the past year. If it’s any comfort to parents, the students characterized their drinking as light to infrequent.
More than a third of students in grades 7 to 9 have binged on alcohol, meaning they consumed five or more drinks on a single occasion, researchers found. The same was true for 40% of 15- to 19-year-olds, while another survey showed that one-third of young drinkers drank at a hazardous level.
After alcohol, cannabis was the most commonly used illegal substance among youth. Cannabis use is reported by 17% of students in grades 7 to 9, about 29% of 15- to 17-year-olds, and almost half of 18- to 19-year-olds, the CCSA report said.
Pot smoking, in fact, now exceeds the rate of cigarette smoking among youth, the study found.
The statistics underline that new approaches are needed to prevent and treat substance abuse by youth, said Michel Perron, the CCSA’s chief executive officer.
In general, Mr. Perron said in an interview, there needs to be more funding for services, better co-ordination between all levels of government and non-governmental agencies, and better use of evidence-based research to evaluate which approaches are most effective. Specifically, Mr. Perron says, services need to be matched to the age and needs of certain kinds of youth, especially those at higher risk of substance abuse.
A universal prevention strategy that talks to youth about peer pressure, for example, can be effective up to about age 12, but beyond that, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work, he said.
“We know that beyond 12 years old, and because the age of initiation is dropping consistently in Canada, which is a concern to us, we need to start matching our services to the age of youth,” he said.
Prevention strategies should target youth as early as possible, said Mr. Perron, ideally at around age 10.
“The longer we stave off a young person from trying illegal drugs or the like, the better it is, the less likely that they’ll carry on into the future,” he explained.
Canada also needs to “professionalize” addiction treatment services to make them more effective, said Perron. There’s a shortage of knowledgeable workers and no consistency in training, his organization says.
There’s also room for improvement in schools, the CCSA report said. Prevention strategies would be more effective, for example, if teachers had better training to recognize youth with substance abuse issues, it states.
Mr. Perron said he is optimistic about the ongoing challenges of curbing substance abuse among youth. While addiction was not on the political or public radar five or 10 years ago, said Mr. Perron, encouraging signs are now emerging.
He’s eagerly awaiting the anti-drug strategy promised by the federal government and expected this fall, and the recently established Canadian Mental Health Commission is another move in the right direction, he said. Good progress is being made at provincial levels too, Mr. Perron added.
The CCSA report is a call to action for both levels of government and the general public, he said.
“We’re very much looking to mobilize Canadian attention that we need to address substance use and addiction by youth in Canada,” he said. “We can’t do this with government alone; we have to be willing to work together.”

Source: CanWest News Service Wednesday, September 05, 2007

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