HEALTH – Preventing Problematic Substance Use in Youth

Health News Radon

OTTAWA – Problematic use of alcohol, cannabis and opioids is a serious issue in Canada. The more than 8,000 deaths from opioid poisoning since 2016 are preventable deaths. More deaths can be stopped with our collective action.

“We have an opportunity and an obligation to come together to prevent problematic substance use from impacting future generations. We need to collaborate across all sectors to improve policies that can protect youth and provide them with information on the harms and risks of using substances. We also need to continue to control access to and availability of substances, and we must address those traumatic experiences that lead to problematic substance use in the first place,” states Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.

According to recent data from British Colombia, the national life expectancy of Canadians may be on the decline because of the opioid crisis. Canadian youth are the highest users of cannabis in the world, and almost half of all students in grades 7 to 12 drink alcohol. This is a key moment to prevent problematic substance use from impacting current and future generations. To tackle this problem and to save lives, we must maintain, expand and evolve efforts across sectors and society.

Today, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, released her annual report on the State of Public Health in Canada. This year’s report provides a snapshot of the health status of Canadians and then explores problematic substance use in youth with a focus on prevention. Dr. Tam will launch her report this afternoon at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s national conference in Montreal, Quebec.

While many youth experiment with using drugs and alcohol, some use these substances in ways that are harmful to themselves and others. Intervening early to counteract the risk factors of problematic use among youth offers the best chance of having a positive influence on a young person’s development and in reducing long-term harms to them and to society as a whole.

There is no single cause of problematic substance use in youth, so preventing it will require strong collaboration among many sectors of society. A comprehensive approach includes marketing restrictions, reduced availability, the provision of stable housing, supportive education, and accessible social and mental health supports. These will help youth thrive and prevent the harmful use of substances.

“I thank Dr. Tam for her report and support her call to undertake a coordinated approach across sectors to prevent problematic substance use among youth in Canada. Protecting our youth is one of the main reasons the Government of Canada strictly regulates substances like alcohol, cannabis and opioids,” comments Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the federal Minister of Health.

“The Canadian Mental Health Association is pleased to see that the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada is endorsing a strong public health approach in her new report, which outlines how we can all best support young people to make healthy choices that contribute to their mental wellness. This approach will support the promotion of mental health throughout all stages of a person’s life and a family’s development, and help balance the existing clinical focus on mental illness only after it’s become acute” states Dr. Patrick Smith, National CEO, Canadian Mental Health Association.

Quick Facts

  • Each year, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada is required to submit an annual report on the State of Public Health in Canada to the Minister of Health.
  • This year’s report provides a snapshot of the health status of Canadians and looks at problematic substance use in youth.
  • Alcohol is the substance with the highest use by Canadian students in grades 7 to 12. One of every four youth under the legal drinking age use alcohol excessively.
  • In 2016-17, 6% of students reported having used psychoactive pharmaceutical products to get high, up from 4% of students in 2014-2015.
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