Toronto Star

November 16, 1999

More students are getting high, survey finds

Binge drinking identified as key drug-use concern

By Phinjo Gombu
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Drug use ranging from cigarettes and alcohol to cocaine and Ecstasy is soaring among Grades 7 to 13 students in Ontario, according to a survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Binge drinking by teens, which has risen by almost one-third in the past six years, is one of the key concerns identified by the survey.

About 42.4 per cent of the 920,000 students represented are binge drinkers, described in the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey as the consumption of more than five drinks on any given occasion.

``It's of serious concern,'' Dr. Edward Adlaf, the lead scientist involved in the biennial survey, said yesterday. Some 5,000 students from 111 schools in 38 different school boards were interviewed.

The study results, extrapolated to represent about 920,000 students, are accurate within 2 percentage points.

Drug use ``is approaching the levels we saw several decades ago,'' Adlaf said.

The dramatic increase in binge drinking from 30.5 per cent in 1993 fits in with the other key finding in the survey: an increase in cigarette smoking, he said.

Despite government-funded campaigns to stop cigarette smoking and drug use, the number of teenaged smokers rose to 28.3 percent this year from 23.8 per cent six years ago.

Adlaf said both trends carry long-term health risks and are habits that are carried into adult life - unlike other kinds of illicit drug use, which are often experimental.

He said it's troubling that in just about every category of drug use, the trend line runs up, not down. At the same time, the percentage of students not using drugs fell to 26.8 per cent this year from 36.3 per cent in 1993.

Other comparisons since 1993 show:

The use of Ecstasy, the drug of choice for young people who attend all-night rave parties, grew to 4.8 per cent from 0.6 per cent since 1993. Since July, three deaths connected to Ecstasy overdoses have occurred in and around Toronto.

Adlaf, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Toronto, said researchers weren't able to definitively identify the cause of such worrying trends.

But he speculated that the resurgence in drug use among Ontario students reflects trends among adults and other students across North America, Europe and Australia.

Other reasons could be a decline in moral disapproval of drugs in society and a weakening perception among adolescents about the dangers of drug use, Adlaf said.

Adlaf described this weakening perception as ``generational forgetting.''

Because the 1980s were marked by a decline in drug use from an all-time high in the 1970s, there is a knowledge gap among teens, who are unaware of the dangers of overdoses and other associated risks, he said.

Other findings include:

The survey, which began in 1968 when the Toronto District School Board approached the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, showed some interesting geographic and gender differences in drug-use patterns.

Almost 77 per cent of the students in Northern Ontario said they used alcohol, while only 59.4 per cent of those in Toronto said they drank.

While there was an across-the-board increase in the use of seven types of drugs (alcohol, cannabis, glue, solvents, medical barbiturates, medical stimulants and non-medical barbiturates,), there was a smaller increase in the use of non-medical barbiturates and alcohol among females.

As part of its campaign to educate young people, the centre announced yesterday the creation of a Web site, where a party situation is simulated and young people can make real-life decisions about alcohol, drinking and driving, dating and drug use.

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