Rates of substance abuse (EKASS survey)

East Kootenay Adolescent Drug Use Survey released

Mostly change in the right direction says Nicholson of EKASS

The East Kootenay Addiction Services Society has released the 2017 East Kootenay Adolescent Drug Use Survey. This is the eighth such survey of drug use, attitudes and behaviours among East Kootenay adolescents published. They are typically conducted every two years.

The survey was administered to Grade 7 through 12 students in SD 5 (Southeast Kootenay), 6 (Rocky Mountain)and 8 (Kootenay Lake), as well two private schools, Kootenay Christian Academy and the Fernie Academy. Students were surveyed between March 6 and 10 of 2017. A total of 4699 surveys were distributed and 3480 were returned, with 44 deemed soiled or unreliable.

Dean Nicholson of EKASS wrote the survey’s executive summary.

Notable findings include:

Lifetime rates of use for most substances continue to decline:

After steady declines starting in 2005 alcohol use was essentially the same as the 2015 survey, coming in at 58.4% of youth reporting having used alcohol at least once in their lives.

The marijuana use rate dropped slightly from the 2015 level to 30.4% of youth reporting having used marijuana at least once. The usage rate has been stable since 2011 with reported usage rates between 30 to 31.4%, after a steady decline from a high of 37.9% in 2005.

Lifetime rates of tobacco use continue to decline, reaching a new low with 25.1% of youth reporting have tried tobacco. Conversely, ECigarette use increased from 30.6% in 2015 (the first year it was surveyed) to 35.1% in 2017. Significantly more youth have tried ECigarettes than regular tobacco.

The rates of use for other substances fluctuates within a very narrow range from survey to survey, with lifetime usage rates well below 10% for all substances, and for most substances below 5%. From a statistically significance perspective, these figures suggest that the substance use rates being reported are stable.

“It’s mostly change in the right direction,” Nicholson said. “It’s nice not to see anything but Ecigarette use going up. I think there has been a lot of good messaging around use of tobacco.”

The use of ‘Prescription/Over-the-Counter’ substances for non-medical reasons was very stable from the 2015 to the 2017 Survey. In 2017 11.5% of youth reported improper use of Downers, compared to 11.4% in 2015. 4.1% reported improper use of Stimulants, compared to 4.2% in 2015. Encouragingly, given the national concern about fentanyl abuse and opioid overdoses, the reported misuse of Opioids dropped from 12.6% in 2015 to 11.3% in 2017. These figures must be interpreted with some caution however, Nicholson says. Despite trying to clearly state in the survey instructions that use of these Prescription/Over-the-Counter substances, was only to be indicated if they were used ‘for other than the proper medical reason or the reason it was prescribed’, it became evident that many students did not understand the instructions and indicated having used one or more of the substances for what was likely an appropriate medical reason, rather than to get a ‘high’. For example, Nicholson noted while processing the completed Surveys that many Grade 7 and Grade 8 students, who had indicated no other lifetime substance use, indicated that they had used Opioids or Downers in their lifetime.

Particularly telling was they indicated they had gotten the drugs from family. It stretches credulity to think that Grade 7 students who have no other substance use history are taking prescription medications to get high, he says. This suggests that the reported usage rates are likely elevated, and that the actual percentage of youth who have used Prescription/Over-the-Counter drugs for inappropriate reasons, is lower. This is not to downplay the real problem of opioid abuse, Nicholson says.

“East Kootenay Addictions Services Society has provided services to a number of people under 19 in our region who became involved with opioid abuse, and regrettably we have had fatal overdoses in the same age group.”

Age of first use of alcohol remained steady at 13 years of age. The age of first use of marijuana dropped to 13.7 years from 13.9 in 2015.

The percentage of youth who report using alcohol less than once a week has steadily climbed from a low of 74% in 2007 to a high of 84.0% in 2017, with 51% reporting using less than once a month. The percentage of youth reporting alcohol use 3-7 days a week rose slightly from a low in 2015 of 2.9% to 3.3% but is still lower than the highest rate reported in 2007 of 5.5%. The percentage of youth who report using marijuana less than once a week has slowly climbed from a low of 60.6% in 2005 to a high of 63.8% in 2015, dropping slightly to 63% in 2017. The percentage of youth who report using marijuana 3-7 days a week remained steady at 25.1% in 2017.

The 2017 survey found that reported lifetime usage rates for girls continued to be lower for almost all substances compared to boys.

Research suggests that patterns of regular binge drinking in adolescence greatly increase the risk of problem alcohol use in adulthood.

Although the majority of youth who use alcohol report binge drinking some of the time, there has been a steady increase in the overall number of youth reporting infrequent binge drinking, and a comparative decrease in the overall number reporting regular binge drinking. In the conclusions section of the summary, Nicholson notes that the 2017 East Kootenay Adolescent Drug Use Survey shows that substance use by the Region’s youth continues to decrease or remain stable. While there are encouraging trends in that fewer youth report drinking and driving, there is a new concern with respect to the number of youth who report driving after using marijuana. Similarly, the percentage of youth who use marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis has not changed.

Nicholson says it will be interesting to see what affect the pending legislation on marijuana legalization will have on marijuana use rates when the survey is conducted again in 2019. It remains to be seen whether legalizing marijuana will cause an increase of use in young people, despite what minimum age of use is set at, he says.

“The benefit of having eight East Kootenay Adolescent Drug Use Surveys conducted in the region is that there is solid data that shows marijuana use trends. The next survey will take place in 2019. If the new marijuana legislation has an impact on marijuana use rates amongst adolescents, the East Kootenay region is in an ideal position to document the impact.”

He also sees that more education is needed around the risks of driving under the influence of marijuana.

“Over the past three surveys there has been a trend in which more youth drivers report driving after using marijuana than after using alcohol. This gap has widened further in the 2017 survey. In the 2015 concern was raised about this trend, and the issue that youth may not fully recognize that marijuana does have a negative impact on coordination, depth and time perception, and reaction time.

“I think teens may have the sense that somehow it’s not as risky driving under the influence of marijuana, a sense that it’s not affecting driving,” Nicholson said. “There hasn’t been enough education around both the benefits and harms of marijuana. There needs to be an effort from the provincial and federal government to provide more education, particularly on driving.”

The full study can be read at www.ekass.com. Copies will also be sent to all schools who took part and EKASS youth partners. Nicholson is also available to do presentations.

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