Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Canadians Increasingly Dependent on Mood-Altering Drugs

Study finds pot use has doubled, but researchers more worried about booze
2 hours, 54 minutes ago
DENNIS BUECKERT

OTTAWA (CP) - The number of Canadians who say they have used cannabis or injectable drugs in the past year has doubled in a decade, according to a major new survey.

But addiction specialists still see alcohol abuse as the greater problem. Data from the Canada Addiction Survey, the most comprehensive addictions survey ever done in Canada, presents a disturbing picture of a society increasingly dependent on mood-altering substances.

Fourteen per cent of respondents said they had used cannabis in the last year, up from 7.4 per cent in 1994.

Overall, 45 per cent said they had used pot at least once in their lifetime.

Nearly seven per cent reported using injection drugs in 2004, which would translate into 269,000 Canadians. That's up from 132,000 in 1994.

The survey also suggests that more than four million Canadians have used an injectible drug at some point in their life, up from 1.7 million in 1994.

The proportion of drinkers rose to 79.3 per cent this year from 72.3 per cent in 1994. Seven per cent of respondents described themselves as frequent heavy drinkers, up from 5.4 per cent in 1994.

Researchers who conducted the study said it showed the need for better drug-control programs but did not indicate alarm at the findings.

"This is both a good news and bad news story," Michel Perron of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse told a news conference Wednesday.

"Despite the fact that most Canadians drink in moderation and without harm we are concerned about heavy drinking among youth aged 18 to 24.

"The increasing use of cannabis by Canadian youth is also an area of concern because we know cannabis is not a benign substance."

The reasons for the increasing substance use will become clearer as data are analysed in greater detail, he said.

Robert Hanson of Health Canada said the department is working on a campaign targeted at youth to discourage cannabis and alcohol use, and consulting on a national strategy.

Ed Adlaf of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health said alcohol is the greatest concern because it affects the most people. He said about 20 per cent of adults are drinking hazardously.

Adlaf said he is also concerned that 18 per cent of cannabis users are using the drug daily, and about a third say they can't control their use.

Males were more likely than females to have used the drug, and young people had a higher rate of use than older Canadians.

The survey also suggests usage increases with education, rising to 52 per cent for those with post-secondary education from 35 per cent among high school dropouts.

The updated information comes as the federal government moves to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot.

The pro-marijuana group NORML Canada says the survey clearly shows that cannabis laws have failed to deter people from using the drug.

The survey was sponsored by Health Canada, the Canadian Executive Council on Addictions and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Some highlights from the Canada Addiction Survey, released Wednesday:

-44.5 per cent of Canadians reported using cannabis at least once in their life, compared with 28.2 per cent in 1994.

-45 per cent reported using some illegal drug at least once, up from 28.5 per cent in 1994.

-14.1 per cent reported using cannabis in the last year, up from 7.4 per cent in 1994.

-50.1 per cent of males used cannabis at least once in a lifetime.

-39.2 per cent of women used cannabis at least once.

-79.3 per cent of Canadians reported using alcohol in the last year.

-7.3 per cent said they were lifelong teetotallers.

-13.7 per cent said they were former drinkers and had not used alcohol in the last year.

-20.2 per cent reported heavy drinking at least once a month.