Experts discuss concerns and positive trends in latest OSDUHS webinar

While research shows that use of alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis continue to decline among Ontario students, there has been an increase in their use of cough and cold medicine, and their rate of driving after cannabis use is twice the rate of drinking after drinking.

These findings and others from CAMH’s latest Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), which this year marks its 40th anniversary, were presented during a webinar that featured the members of the research team. 

Hosted by the Provincial System Support Program (PSSP) at CAMH hosted, the webinar provided an overview of the findings to 357 participants from Ontario’s healthcare, public health, education, social services and government sectors.

PSSP’s Tamar Meyer and Jason Guriel presented a summary of the 2017 drug use results and led a discussion about the positive and concerning trends with researchers Drs. Robert Mann and Hayley Hamilton, from the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, and Joanna Seel, of the Youth Addiction and Concurrent Disorder Services. 

When looking at the trends among Ontario students over the last 20 years, alcohol use decreased from 66% to 43%, tobacco use from 28% to 7%, and cannabis use from 28% to 19%. According to Dr. Mann, it’s important to recognize the significance of those changes.

“The trends should give us some confidence that we can achieve substantial success if we take a long-term perspective on the problems that we are dealing with, and make a systematic commitment to addressing those problems over the long term,” he noted.

Of concern was the increased in the use of cough and cold medicine in the last two years and that the rate of driving after cannabis use is double the rate of driving after drinking. 

This year, for the first time, the survey included a question on fentanyl use. Though less than 1% of students said they used fentanyl, Dr. Hayley Hamilton expressed concern because this substance has been connected with overdose deaths. 

“That is a significant concern and it is something that we have to be aware of and needs to be addressed within this population,” she commented.

Many questions from the audience focused on the impending legalization of cannabis. Dr. Mann commented that it is very hard to estimate how many young persons will use cannabis.

“It was very informative to look at what young people thought [about cannabis] and were projecting [to use it],” he noted, and added that one-third of respondents were in favour of legalizing cannabis while one third were against it. 

“We did not see a lot of young people saying they will start using [cannabis], and based on that, my projection is that there really would not be much change,” he added. “The key will be the regulatory framework within which cannabis is introduced.” 

The researchers said that using the public health approach that the government is taking is the correct one. If tobacco is to be taken as an example, though it is a legal substance, its use has decreased steadily over the last couple of decades thanks to public health efforts.

The OSDUHS survey covers both mental health and substance use, and the two cannot be separated when thinking of policy or programming.

“A lot of time, the young people that I work with are coming in self-medicating, using substances to medicate what the mental health concerns may be, and that is where the concurrent piece comes in,” noted Joanna Seel. “Addressing just the mental health or just substance use won’t get to the centre of this.”

Take a look at the OSDUHS interactive infographic and download the full report. You can also watch the webinar recording and download the slides.

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