Local teen drug, alcohol use numbers ‘disturbing’

Heather Latter

Given numbers released last week by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, it is evident there continues to be issues with drug use among teens, not only across the province but also locally.
Hugh Dennis, co-ordinator of the Rainy River District Substance Abuse Prevention Team, believes local programs, and working together with the students to educate them on the consequences of using drugs and alcohol, is the best way to reduce the numbers.
“The numbers are disturbing,” he admitted.
“Because from the work I’ve done and some informal surveys, the provincial numbers are lower than in our area.”
The provincial survey, the longest ongoing school survey of adolescents in Canada being conducted every two years since 1977, indicate alcohol and cannabis as the top two drug uses among Grades 7-12 students, with a total of 58.2 percent using alcohol and 25.6 using cannabis.
But it is the number of teens using opioid pain relievers (non-medical use) that concerns Dennis the most.
With a total more than 17.8 percent of students across the province, more than nine percent are beginning to use non-medical prescription opioid pain relievers in Grade 7.
“I think it’s the most serious because of the speed of addiction and lack of knowledge of the consequences of using,” Dennis remarked, explaining that students get hooked on these drugs very quickly.
“It just sneaks up on them and they don’t know what to do.”
Dennis indicated there are many professionals locally who are available to help, such as family doctors, pharmacists, public health nurses, and counselling services.
He noted the average of those using OxyContin is higher in Northern Ontario than in the Toronto area.
In fact, a survey conducted in 2008-09 by Dennis among Grade 10 students in Rainy River District indicated 72 out of 232 students had seen a friend use OxyContin.
“And it seems a lot of them are taking it from medicine cabinets,” he remarked, saying adults need to be careful when storing opiates.
“They can be as dangerous as ammunition,” he warned.
Dennis said recent work done by the Substance Abuse Prevention Team, such as with the “Photo Voice” project, has created plenty of dialogue about drug and alcohol use locally among teens and has determined to answer the questions as to why they do it.
“It’s because they are bored and they think drugs are the answer,” he noted. “Their friends are using and they just want to try it, but then they become addicted.”
He stressed the key is to keep teens as busy as possible.
“When they find their passion, whether it be playing in a band, painting, dancing, or whatever, their perception of being bored is different,” he added, noting he has worked with many youth in the area and believes they are great people.
“The future is our youth and we have a great future,” he enthused. “We just have to work with them to make sure their potential is reached.”
Awareness of addictions also was at the forefront last week during National Addictions Awareness Week.
Presentations and activities at Couchiching and Rainy River First Nation focused on promoting an addiction-free lifestyle for communities, families, and individuals.