By Dan Rankin
The 2015 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) was released by the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on Wednesday. Some of its findings include that alcohol remains the most popular drug of choice for Ontario students in grades 7 through 12, with 29 per cent of 12th graders engaging in “hazardous drinking.” It also found that roughly 1-in-5 students (which equates to roughly 203,900 kids) report using cannabis in the past year, while 12 per cent (or about 107,800 individuals) have tried puffing on an electronic cigarette – outnumbering those that smoked regular cigarettes. The survey sought input from 10,426 students from 220 schools across Ontario. It is the latest installment of Canada’s longest-running systematic study of drug use among youth – dating back to 1977 – and one of the longest-running such surveys in the world.
The study, which was conducted during the 2014-2015 academic year, can be found online at CAMHx.ca/Publications/OSDUHS/2015/index.html.
According to the study, more than one quarter of high school students are allowed to drink at home with friends. However, consumption of alcohol by students has “decreased significantly over the last two decades, from 66 per cent in 1999 to 46 per cent in 2015.” Despite this, the researchers said they are still concerned by the prevalence of “alcohol consumption and hazardous drinking behaviour.”
An estimated 18 per cent or 168,100 students reported binge drinking (having five or more drinks on one occasion) at least once in the month before taking the survey. Alcohol is also perceived as the most readily available drug, with 65 per cent of all students reporting it as “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get.
CAMH scientist and co-lead investigator of the study Dr. Robert Mann said, “binge drinking is dangerous, and we are concerned to see nearly 20 percent of high-schoolers report blacking out on at least one occasion in the last year.”
In the cannabis category, the researchers found that usage increases with grade level, with 37 per cent of Grade 12 students reporting having used cannabis in the past year. That’s compared to just over 10 percent of Grade 9 students. A new question to the survey this year found that roughly five percent of high school students (an estimated 35,300) also reported using e-cigarettes to smoke or “vape” cannabis oil.
More common, however, is the use of e-cigarettes in place of regular tobacco cigarettes. Nine percent of students in Grades 7 to 12 said they smoked regular cigarettes during the past year, while 12 per cent said they had used an e-cigarette, with or without nicotine.
“These numbers could mean that students are assuming it is safer to use e-cigarettes than tobacco cigarettes,” said Dr. Hayley Hamilton, the study’s other co-lead investigator. “But the problem is we still don’t know how safe e-cigarettes are. Research on the effects of e-cigarettes is in very early stages and we don’t know about longer-term health and safety effects.”
Among students surveyed, non-medical use of prescription opioids has dropped significantly from 21 per cent in 2007, the first year of monitoring, to 10 per cent in 2015. That’s positive, say the researchers, however they say too many students are still using the highly addictive opioids.
For students in grades 9 to 12, past year use of ecstasy increased from three per cent in 2013 to more than 5 per cent in 2015, with a greater increase among females than males.
A Grade 12 DCVI student contacted by the Independent said, of all the drugs listed in the survey, alcohol was the only one they had used in the past year, “if a few sips of a cooler here and there count.”
The study also broke down the findings by region, with the results for the Erie St. Clair and South West Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) showing figures generally consistent with the provincial average. Among students in this region, use of chewing tobacco, vaped cannabis oil, ecstasy, over-the-counter cough medication and non-medicinal prescription drug use were all significantly below the provincial average. Drugs being sold or procured at schools was found to much less prevalent in the southwest than in Eastern Ontario. On the other hand, what the researchers classified as “hazardous/harmful drinking” takes place in this region at a higher rate than the provincial average, and more responders from this region than the provincial average said it was “easy or very easy” to get alcohol, cigarettes and cannabis.