21% of Canadian teenagers in grades 7 to 12 said in a survey that they had used prescription painkillers (opioid drugs), such as Tylenol No. 3 and Percocet at least once during the previous twelve months for recreational purposes – the survey, carried out by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto interviewed teenagers in Ontario. Approximately three-quarter of these teenagers said they obtained the painkillers from their homes.

OxyContin was the only drug to show a significant, albeit small, increase in non-medical use since the previous survey – in 2005 18,100 (1%) students reported using it, compared to 2% (about 18,100 teenagers) in 2007.

The surveyors were encouraged to find that there was no increase in the uptake of other drugs, saying that this may be because of effective health promotion initiatives that have been in place over a number of years.

Louis Gliksman, Acting Chief of Research, CAMH, study spokesperson, said “The reasons for the increase in OxyContin® use are currently unknown, and we need to monitor this finding to determine whether it is a real trend or a one-time finding. However, the finding that 72% of the student users report obtaining the drugs from home suggests that some intervention with families might be appropriate.”

Students still opt for alcohol as their drug of choice, the report explains. Approximately 61% of all the students surveyed consume alcohol. About 26% of students binge drink. In this report binge drinking means consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in one session. 19% of students may be drinking hazardously, the same proportion as in 2005. Drinking hazardously means doing so in a way that significantly raises your chances of having social, psychological and physical problems.

26% of the students said they had consumed cannabis at least once during the previous twelve months – a slight drop on previous years. 14% of all students said they had consumed cannabis at least six times during the previous twelve months. A higher number of students said they drove a car after using cannabis (16%) than those who had consumed alcohol (12%).

Just 5% of all the students said they smoked cigarettes regularly, while 72% had never tried a cigarette ever. In fact, the prevalence of daily smoking is at its lowest since 1977, when records began – today 12% of students smoke cigarettes regularly.

Gail Czukar, CAMH’s VP of Policy, Education and Health Promotion, said “Survey indicates that it is the legal drugs – alcohol and prescription opioids – that are being used by Ontario’s youth today, and our governments’ efforts to address substance use among youth need to be in synch with that reality if we want to improve the health of our young people.”

The survey also revealed:

— 4% of students use OTC (over-the-counter) sleeping medication

— 3% of students use Jimson Weed

— 1% of students use ADHD (attention deficient/hyperactivity disorder) medicines for non-medical use

— Speed (methamphetamine) and crystal meth (crystal methamphetamine) does not seem to have made any inroads into the student population. In fact ‘speed’ consumption dropped, from 2% of all students in 2005, to 1% in 2007

— 3% of students consumed cannabis every day during the 4 weeks prior to the survey (about 27,300 students in grades 7-12)

— Approximately 28,700 students in Ontario (3%) may have a cannabis dependence problem

— 15% of all students said they got drunk at least once during the previous twelve months

— 21% were either sold, offered or given drugs at school

The survey, called the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS). It is Canada’s longest running school survey of teenagers, describing drug use and changes since 1977.

Click here to the Survey page, and links its relevant parts

Written by – Christian Nordqvist