Kootenay youth substance use trending downward: survey

A biennial survey distributed to regional schools shows that youth substance use is decreasing

Data collected from a youth survey shows that substance use among adolescents is trending downward in the East Kootenay region, according to the East Kootenay Addiction Services Society (EKASS).

The survey — distributed in schools throughout the Elk Valley, Cranbrook, Columbia Valley and Creston — invited students between Grade 7-12 to anonymously answer questions on substance use.

Three main conclusions noted that e-cigarette use has become more common that tobacco, opioid use has significantly decreased since 2015, and the legalization of marijuana last year has not led to a statistical increase in usage.

“I don’t think there was anything particularly surprising,” said Dean Nicholson, the executive director of the EKASS. “We were pleased to see that the substance use rates continue to decline or have been stable for quite a while.”

Tobacco use itself continues to decline but the use of e-cigarettes is increasing and is now generally tried before tobacco. However, it is not seen as a ‘gateway’ to tobacco use, according to the report.

Opioid use among youth has declined over the last four years; seven per cent of respondents reported using an opioid, down from 12 per cent in 2015. A similar decrease was also observed in usage of depressant medications such as benzodiazepines.

“I think the good news was, when you start to look more specifically at different kinds of prescription or over-the-counter substances that kids might be using for other reasons, that we’re seeing a decline in the opioid painkiller-type drugs as well as in the depressant drugs like the benzodiazepines,” said Nicholson.

“Given how much of a concern around opioid overdose in the province —and we have had young people in our area overdose and there have been fatalities —it’s good to see kids aren’t using the prescription drugs in that sense, or that that use has declined.”

There has been no statistical increase in marijuana usage among youth given that it was legalized by the federal government last October. Indeed, according to a Statistics Canada report over the first quarter of 2019, there has been an increase in first-time marijuana users, however, they are primarily adults aged 45-64.

“We were encouraged by that, that the legalization didn’t seem to increase use and we didn’t anticipate that it would,” said Nicholson. “We figured that most kids who were using, they were already doing, in theory, illegally before.”

The survey also included a section on student beliefs about marijuana, which posed statements about marijuana use and asked the students to rank the how truthful or false the statements were on a scale of one (mostly false) to five (mostly true).

For example, a statement that marijuana use by youth potentially causes mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or schizophrenia was ranked by a mean score of 3.77.

The average age of first-time usage for substances such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and mushrooms hover around 13 years old. First time use for harder substances such as hallucinogens, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy is slightly older at roughly 14 years old.

Alcohol continues to be the most-used substance by youth, with varying percentages broken down by their Grade level. Other top-used substances include tobacco, e-cigarettes and marijuana.

Alcohol and marijuana use and driving is also generally trending lower, according to the survey results.

The survey has collected substance use data from students every two years since 2002, allowing the EKASS to compare current results with historical trends.The 2019 edition was completed by 3,491 respondents — roughly 73.4 per cent of the regional student population.

While the survey itself has evolved over the years, the data collection remains a valuable source of information to help influence programs and services at the EKASS.

The report is available publicly and is shared with other regional community organizations and advocates.

Nicholson praised the relationship the EKASS has with school districts that have participated in the survey since it first began in 2002.

“I think the way the schools have been able to shift some of their views on substance use is a direct result of the survey results and the way we work together with them,” Nicholson said, “and it certainly changed the way we do things and it continues to change as we look at where there are areas of concern.”



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

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