Drug use dropping among local teens

A survey of East Kootenay students has found fewer are trying alcohol, tobacco and illegal substances

  • May. 17, 2013 7:00 a.m.

Teenagers in the East Kootenay are using drugs less often in 2013 than they were eight years ago, according to a survey just released.

The East Kootenay Addictions Services Society surveyed 3,500 students in Grades 7 through 12 in schools from Cranbrook to Golden and from Creston to Elkford.

The survey is completed every two years, and the most recent results come from students in February and March this year.

“Drug use continues to go down steadily, which is good news,” said Dean Nicholson, administrator of East Kootenay Addictions Services Society. “The major drugs – tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, mushrooms, ecstasy, prescription, cocaine – are all dropping.”

This year, 60.6 per cent of students said they have tried alcohol, compared to 76.8 per cent in 2005. 30.5 per cent have tried marijuana, compared to 37.9 per cent in 2005. 8.1 per cent have tried mushrooms, compared to 14.5 per cent in 2005.

In 2013, 71.9 per cent of teens said they have never tried tobacco, while in 2007, 61.3 per cent said they hadn’t smoked cigarettes.

“The other exciting thing was, we had seen ecstasy use rising over all these years. This is the first year it has dropped off,” said Nicholson.

In 2013, 5.8 per cent said they had tried ecstasy. In 2011, it was 8.7 per cent.

“In our education in schools we have really pushed the risks of ecstasy, and a lot more kids are giving us feedback when we talk to them that they are choosing not to do that because it’s not necessarily a clean drug.”

Since starting the survey, East Kootenay Addictions Services Society has conducted in-school education about safety and substance use around the region. Nicholson said there’s no way to know if that education is making the difference for East Kootenay adolescents.

“I’d love to say, yes, it’s because of what we’re doing, but to be scientifically honest I can’t say that,” he said. “(But) in the communities where we’ve been really intensively trying to have multi-pronged and multi-year interventions, we are tending to see bigger drops.”

There has been a bigger drop in substance use among girls than boys, the survey found.

“When we were looking early on in the decade, we found that girls were just as likely to have tried the substances, and were likely to be using almost as often as the boys were, and in some cases such as ecstasy and cocaine, they were more likely to have used the substances than the boys,” said Nicholson.

“This time around, all the substances the girls are using less than the boys.”

When it comes to alcohol, 62 per cent of boys in 2013 had tried it, versus 58.5 per cent of girls. In 2009, 70.5 per cent of boys had tried alcohol compared to 69.3 per cent of girls.

For marijuana, 33.6 per cent of boys in 2013 had tried it, while 27.3 per cent of girls had. Back in 2007, 35.4 per cent of boys had tried marijuana, compared to 36.2 per cent of girls.

“Even though they are all dropping, the girls have been dropping at a faster rate,” said Nicholson.

“It’s fairly normal that a good chunk of teenagers, but boys even more so than girls, will be more likely to be sensation seeking. They are more naturally wired to do more of that risk taking, try things out.”

And East Kootenay teens are older now when they start using substances, the survey found.

On average, kids in 2013 are aged 12.9 when they try alcohol for the first time, compared to 12.5 in 2005.

“A half a year increase is a huge increase. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really is a big difference because it means at the Grade 7, Grade 8 level, we are going to see a lot more kids who at that age haven’t used yet. They may start in Grade 9, but for us that’s preferable. The longer they wait, the less likely they are to do all sorts of heavy use,” said Nicholson.

One negative that the survey found is that in 2013 young people are just as likely to drive after using marijuana.

“The number of kids saying they are driving after using marijuana hasn’t changed very much,” said Nicholson. “We’ve got roughly as many kids saying they are driving after drinking as there are driving after smoking pot.”

In 2013, 12 per cent of teens said they have driven while drunk, and 10.4 per cent have driven while under the influence of marijuana. In 2007, 20.1 per cent had driven after using alcohol, versus 11 per cent after using marijuana.

“There has been some headway in getting kids to think about drinking and driving, and certainly we see kids being much more likely to arrange designated drivers if they are going out drinking, but maybe not quite as much around marijuana,” said Nicholson.

It’s something important to consider when debating the decriminalization of marijuana, he went on.

“There’s a general perception among many people, including a lot of adolescents, that marijuana is not as harmful as alcohol or cigarettes, and there is some truth to that in some respects. But I think in doing that they are not recognizing the impact it still has on motor coordination and the fact that you are still impaired to drive, both legally and practically,” said Nicholson.