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2003 Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Ecstasy Use Down, Cigarettes and LSD Continue to Decline, but Heavy Drinking Remains a Problem

Attention News/Health Editors
For Immediate Release: November 18, 2003 - Toronto - The use of ecstasy by youth in grades 7 to 12 is down but binge drinking remains a problem, according to the results of the 2003 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey (OSDUS) released today by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). OSDUS is the longest ongoing study of adolescent drug use in Canada.
This year's study shows that between 2001 and 2003, the use of ecstasy has dropped from 6% to 4.1% and the escalating trend of illicit drug use that began in the early 1990's has subsided. However, there is an increase in cannabis use in girls and cocaine use continues its upward trend that began in 1999.
 "For the first time since 1991, the research is showing a decrease in the use of ecstasy," says Dr. Edward Adlaf, senior scientist at CAMH and associate professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto, who conducted the study along with co-author, research associate, Angela Paglia.  "Two other interesting changes in this year's study are that youth are perceiving greater risk in trying ecstasy, and more youth are disapproving of its use compared to the 2001 results," says Adlaf.
Although there is a noteworthy decrease in the use of illicit drugs, the rates of heavy or binge drinking have not declined and remain at an elevated level.  "Alcohol remains the most widely used drug across all grades and the perceived risk associated with binge drinking is low," says Adlaf. In 2003, about one-quarter (26%) of students report binge drinking (5+ drinks on one occasion) during the month before the survey, 19% of students (27% of drinkers) report drinking at hazardous levels, which includes adverse consequences and symptoms of dependence to alcohol. Hazardous drinking varies significantly between males and females (21% vs 17%).   
Adlaf also points out that only 1.4% of all youth surveyed reported that they had received treatment for an alcohol or drug problem in the past year.  This is important since 18% of students reported that they have used drugs to feel better about themselves and used drugs alone, which are indicators of a drug use problem.
Since 2001, three drugs other than ecstasy have declined significantly in their use. They are: cigarettes (from 23.1 % to 19.2 %), LSD (from 4.8% to 2.9%) and barbiturates (from 4% to 2.5%). 
Other study highlights include:
  • The use of any illicit drug, excluding cannabis, significantly declined between 1999 (20%) and 2003 (15%).
  • In 2003, 30% of students used cannabis in the past year, and 34% report using at least once in their lifetime.
  • About 14% of students smoke on a daily basis, a significant decrease from 22% in 2001.
  • The reported availability of cannabis, as well as cocaine, has significantly increased since 1989.
  • Cocaine and crack use decreased during the 1980s and is currently on an upward trend.
  • Since the early 1990s, risk perceptions surrounding most substance use (except ecstasy) have gradually weakened, especially regarding cannabis.
  • About one-third (30%) of students do not consume any substance, including alcohol or tobacco.
"The declining trend in drug use is encouraging," says Peter Coleridge, Vice President of Communications, Education and Community Health at CAMH. "CAMH's commitment to helping youth is a priority. Knowing the areas of drug use that have been identified by OSDUS as being problematic assists us in creating effective and timely youth prevention and public education programs. Through evidence-based prevention programs and clinical treatment services for youth, we aim to promote healthy choices and reduce risky behaviour." 
 CAMH knows from recent research studies that youth aren't accessing the help they need and a study is currently underway to understand what the barriers to treatment are. In an effort to make public education campaigns, drug education curriculums and effective prevention programs more accessible to families, students, professionals and the general public, CAMH has improved the design of their newly launched The full OSDUS report, and a complete list of youth programs is also available at this web address.
The OSDUS study, which spans over two decades, is based on 14 surveys conducted every two years since 1977.  In the spring of 2003, 6,616 students in grades 7 to 12 from 126 schools participated in the survey administered by the Institute for Social research, York University.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is a Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization Collaborating Centre and a teaching hospital fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.
For further information please contact: Sylvia Hagopian, Media Relations Coordinator CAMH, at (416) 595-6015.
CAMH Switchboard 416-535-8501
CAMH General Information Toronto: 416-595-6111 Toll Free: 1-800-463-6273
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