Rising Risk of Substance Abuse Among Canadian Youth

Most parents underestimate the threat of substance addiction and overdose to their children, according to Drug Free Kids Canada (DFKC). However, studies indicate that there is a growing crisis that needs to be addressed.

As students head back to school, prevention organizations are urging parents, caregivers, and schools to take action against the rising risk of substance abuse among youth. A survey conducted by the 2022 Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program found that drug overdoses among children and teens are now considered a public health emergency. Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 18 in Western Canada.

The report highlights that stimulant overdose is the most commonly reported, followed by sedatives and opioids. Although only 11% of high school students in Ontario admitted to using opioids or prescription drugs for recreational purposes, there is still a high risk.

Parents and trusted adults play a crucial role in limiting the harm caused by substance use among youth. DFKC’s annual tracking study emphasizes the importance of parents as reliable sources of information for children, followed by schools and peers.

Experts argue that the outdated “just say no” approach to educating youth on substance use should be replaced. Instead, DFKC aims to provide parents with the knowledge and tools to have early and informed discussions with their children, approaching the topic with curiosity rather than lecturing.

Another source of information on substance use is schools, with programs like D.A.R.E.’s keepin’ it REAL providing valuable education on problem-solving, risk, peer pressure, bullying, and stress. Studies have shown significant reductions in alcohol consumption, smoking, and vaping among students who have received this program.

The ABC’s of Youth Substance Use program in British Columbia focuses on building the capacity of adults to support youth. Autonomy, Belonging, and Competencies are considered essential for promoting youth well-being and preventing substance-related harms.

Schools are encouraged to refer parents to resources and tools on youth substance use, with teachers and principals playing a crucial role as bridges between parents and support systems.

Open and candid conversations are vital in creating a sense of safety for youth when it comes to substance use. Rather than simply saying “no,” it is important to address the realities and challenges that young people may face, providing them with the skills to make informed decisions about their health.