Substance Abuse in Canada

Substance Abuse in Canada

Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Canada

11 percent of Canadians suffer from drug or alcohol abuse. Cannabis is the most widely used of all drugs in Canada but there are concerns about the increasing prevalence of prescription drug abuse and head shop drugs in the country. Substance abuse in Canada was estimated in 2002 to cost $39.8 billion with illicit drugs accounting for 20 percent or $8.2 billion. Costs associated with drug use include loss of productivity, road traffic accidents, health care burden and education. In 2002, 1695 people died as a direct result of abusing an illicit drug in Canada. 958 of these deaths was due to an overdose, 295 were drug-attributable suicide and the remaining were from drug-related illness’ (HIV and Hepatitis).

The United Nations World Drug Report is an annual report on drug use patterns, trafficking and production. This report collates information from government bodies and authorities on drugs and reports it every year. Canadian drug use in the report was detailed as follows:

* Cocaine use was reported to be 1.4% in 2009. This was a decline from 2.3% in 2004.
* Amphetamine use has declined from 1.5% in 2007 to 0.9% in 2009. Amphetamine statistics also account for methamphetamine use.
* Annual prevalence for ecstasy use amongst 15-19 year old is 3% in 2009. The rate of use amongst 15-64 year old is 1.1%.
* 12.6% reported cannabis use, with the highest rate amongst 15-19 year old which is 26.3%.

Despite declines in some drug use, abuse of illicit substances remains high and the increasing misuse of prescription medications and head shop drugs is of concern. Although these drugs may appear less harmful than illicit drugs like cocaine or heroin, they can cause significant health and social problems.

Canadian Prescription Drug Abuse

Canadians are considered one of the heaviest users of psychotropic medications in the world. Although statistics on prescription drug abuse are not readily available, it has been reported by the Canadian Center for Substance Abuse that Canada is the 4th highest per-capita user of prescription narcotics and the 2nd highest user of sedative-hypnotic prescription drugs in the world. In 1999-200, Ontario reported that 11 percent of admissions to substance abuse treatment programs were for prescription drugs.

Opioid drugs are the most commonly used of all the prescription drugs and this type of drug represent heavy pain killers. Oxycodone is the most well known and most misused of all the opioid drugs. It should only be taken as directed by a doctor as it has a high risk of abuse and addiction. Tolerance to the drug can develop easily and dependence can lead to significant personal, physical and mental problems. Oxycodone is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic with effective pain relief properties. The drug is widely prescribed for moderate and severe pain but has been found to be notoriously addictive. Sold under the band names Percocet, Percodan, Oxycontin, Roxicodone and Oxynorm, the drug has increased in recreational use over recent years.

Injecting Drug Use in Canada

Injecting drug users represent approximately 0.2-0.4% of the population. This is between 75,000 and 125,000 people. Up to one third of all injecting drug users are women in Canada. The most commonly injecting drug in Canada is cocaine.

According to data in the 2011 World Drug Report, up to 50 percent of injecting drug users reported to use non-prescribed medications such as morphine in the months prior to the data collection period in 2006. The statistics reveal that injecting drug users used the following drugs:

* 77.5 % injected cocaine
* 45.9% injected morphine
* 32.9% injected hydromorphne
* 31.9% injected crack cocaine
* 27.6% injected heroin

Injecting drugs carries a very high risk of health problems. Diseases are easily contracted, spread and transmitted to others, abscesses, ulcers and other infections are frequent and tolerance and dependence to a drug happens easier for intravenous drug users. The additional problems of unknown quality, adulterant substances and impurities can also contribute to health problems. In Canada, 13.4 percent of injecting drug users are reported to have HIV and 65 percent have hepatitis.

Experimental Drug Use in Canada

Many young Canadians are involved in potentially dangerous experimental drugs. This experimentation includes use of harmful research chemicals which are popular and readily available to purchase online or in head shops. Drugs sold through these avenues pose serious concerns to health, safety and mental stability. Many of the drugs are unknown psychoactive substances that are sold as legal highs, herbal highs or research chemicals. Research has shown that these kind of drugs can cause psychiatric disturbances, interact with prescribed medications, cause adverse reactions when combined with alcohol and may contribute to or exacerbate existing mental illness’. Common side effects of these drugs include headaches, nausea, vomiting, paranoia, body tremors, short-term memory loss, anxiety and excessive aggression. It is not known what the implications of long term use of these drugs are.

Research chemicals are experimental chemicals that have been designed to produce effects that mimic other drugs such as ecstasy, amphetamines, cannabis or psychoactive drugs. They are labeled as research chemicals because they are new substances with relatively information available regarding their effects. Toxicity is often unknown and information about the experience these drugs give a user are usually based on small human studies. Little research is available on the prevalence of use of these substances in Canada, however assumptions can be made based on the increase in use worldwide. Many young and inexperienced users will take these drugs such as mephadrone without knowing the consequences of taking the drug. In addition they will combine it with other legal drugs, other illicit drugs and even alcohol in an incredibly dangerous cocktail of substances.

Salvia Divinorum is a popular psychoactive plant that is consumed for the intense dissociative and psychedelic reactions. The drug reactions are felt almost immediately after smoking the substance and typically last less than 10 minutes. Users may experience and inability to speak, loss of coordination, perception shift, dream-like state, visual hallucinations and changes in body temperature. Some people find the drug to be very pleasant and enjoy the changes to consciousness, insights into personal issues and dissociative affects. Others find that the drug makes them have scary visuals, panic attacks and do not like the feeling of being watched or touched by spirits that high doses of the drug can invoke. An estimated 1.6 percent of Canadians over 15 have consumed Salvia with 7.3 percent of 15-24 year old taking the substance.

Many Canadians are interested in experimenting with synthetic cannabis. This drug is a chemical that has been developed to mimic the effects of marijuana. It is typically sold as a mix of herbs and other plants that are designed to produce mild euphoria and intoxication when smoked. Many users report that synthetic cannabis is substantially stronger than real cannabis and negative reactions such as intense anxiety and paranoia, nausea, increased heart rate and even aggressive behavior has been linked to the use of the drug. Synthetic cannabis is currently still legal in Canada although health authorities are warning the public about the dangers of using the drug. The legal status of the drug is currently being debated.