Drug use among Ontario students, 1977-2013: Detailed Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey Findings

In brief

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) is the longest ongoing school survey of adolescents in Canada, and one of the longest in the world. The study is based on 19 survey cycles conducted every two years since 1977. A total of 10,272 students in grades 8 through 12 participated in the 2013 survey, which was administered by the Institute for Social Research, York University.

In our latest Research Report Round-up, we provide a summary of the OSDUHS 2013 report, “Detailed Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) Findings.” This report describes the use of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and the nonmedical use of specific prescription drugs among Ontario students, and changes since 1977. The information is based on the students’ own responses to anonymous questionnaires that they filled out in classrooms between November 2012 and June 2013.

Read this Research Report Round-up below or access the PDF.

You can also see the infographics highlighting data from the detailed findings. Or watch the two-part webinar series focusing on the 2013 OSDUHS student drug use and health survey results.

Title and link to report: Drug Use Among Ontario Students, 1977-2013: Detailed Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) Findings

Authors: Angela Boak, Hayley Al Hamilton, Edward M. Adlaf, Robert E. Mann, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Year: 2013

What this report is about

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) is the longest ongoing school survey of adolescents in Canada, and one of the longest in the world. The study is based on 19 survey cycles conducted every two years since 1977. A total of 10,272 students in grades 8 through 12 participated in the 2013 survey, which was administered by the Institute for Social Research at York University.

This 2013 OSDUHS report describes the use of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and the nonmedical use of specific prescription drugs, and changes since 1977. The information is based on the students’ own responses to anonymous questionnaires that they filled out in classrooms between November 2012 and June 2013.

Some positive findings:

  • The vast majority of students in Ontario do not smoke cigarettes. The past year prevalence began to decline dramatically during the 2000s, reached its lowest point in 2011 and remained stable in 2013. The perceived risk of harm from smoking one or two cigarettes a day is higher than it was a decade ago.
  • Past year drinking declined, reaching a historical low. Binge drinking (five or more drinks on one occasion) is significantly lower than in the two peak periods -- the 1970s and the late 1990s.
  • The past year use of glue or solvents significantly declined, continuing on the downward trend that began over a decade ago. The current level of use is similar to the historic lows seen in the early 1990s.

While the nonmedical use of prescription opioid pain relievers such as Percocet, Percodan, Tylelol #3, and Oxycontin in the past year remained stable, the level substantially declined since 2007, the first year of monitoring.
Some public health concerns:

  • Although student smoking substantially declined , about one in ten (or 9%) smoke cigarettes. Also, the perceived availability of cigarettes significantly increased.
  • About one in ten (10%) students in grades 7-12 use a waterpipe.
  • About one in seven secondary students (15%) have smoked an e-cigarette in their lifetime – 4% reported smoking an e-cigarette with nicotine and 11% without nicotine.
  • About 6% report using chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco, or snuff, and among males the prevalence approaches that of cigarette smoking.
  • Half of all students drink alcohol, and this increases to 74% in grade 12. Binge drinking remains high, at about one in five students (20%). Among 12th graders, 39% binge drink.
  • About one in six (16%) drink enough that it puts them at risk for current or future physical or social problems. One in five (18%) could not remember what happened when they were drinking on at least one occasion in the previous year.
  • Despite long-term declines in drinking and driving, about 4% of licensed students in grades 10-12 report drinking and driving at least once in the past year, and about 10% report driving after using cannabis. About 18% of all students say they rode with a driver who had been drinking, and 14 rode with a driver who had been using drugs. The likelihood of being a passenger with an intoxicated driver increases significantly with grade.
  • The only drug to show an increase in recent years is over-the-counter cough/cold medication with dextromethorphan. In 2013, one in ten (10%) students in grades 7-12 used such medications to get high. This is significantly higher than the estimate of 7% in 2009, the first year of monitoring.
  • Cannabis is the most common illegal drug among students. Almost one quarter (23%) of students in grades 7-12 use cannabis. Although the prevalence has declined in the past decade and is lower than the two historical peak periods, the decline stopped in 2013. There was a significant decrease between 2011 and 2013 in the perceived risk of harm from using cannabis either experimentally or regularly, as well as a matching decrease in the disapproval of use. There was also a significant increase in the perceived availability between 2011 and 2013.

About 3% of secondary students (10% of past year users) report symptoms of cannabis dependence, characterized by loss of control and withdrawal. About 3% use cannabis daily.

  • One in eight (12%) students report using a prescription opioid pain reliever without their own prescription at least once in the past year.

How this report can be used

This report provides critical information for policymakers, system planners, and public health workers, as well as school and health organizations interested in developing prevention programs for youth. 

 

Type of research: Survey

Key words: Substance use, children and youth, mental health

Contact person: Angela Boak, CAMH, Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey

Language of report: English