Misuse and Abuse of Painkillers Drops in Ontario

The misuse and abuse of prescription opioid pain relievers has fallen dramatically in the Canadian province of Ontario, according to a new survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The annual survey, which began in 1977, is the longest ongoing study of substance use in Canada, and provides key insights into trends involving alcohol, marijuana and other drugs in Canada’s largest province by population. Nearly 13 million people or about 35% of Canadians live in Ontario.

The telephone survey of over 3,000 adults in Ontario found that about one in four (23.9%) had used a prescription opioid pain reliever in 2011. That was down slightly from 26.6% in 2010.

Nonmedical or recreational use of opioids by adults nearly fell in half, from 7.7% to 4%, according to the survey. The Centre attributed the decline to new programs and policies in Ontario to reduce the misuse and abuse of opioid painkillers.

Men (5.5%) were more likely to misuse or abuse opioids than women (2.6%).

And young adults in Ontario between the ages of 18 and 29 were far more likely to use opioids non-medically than people 50 and older (7% vs. 2.1%).

The survey found that the use of marijuana by Ontario adults continues to increase, from 8.7% in 1996 to 13.4% in 2011.

About one in three young adults (33.5%) had used marijuana in the past year. And there was a disturbing increase in the number who reported driving after using cannabis, from 3.2% in 2010 to 8.6% in 2011.

“More young adults are reporting that they drive within an hour of using cannabis - even more than those who report drinking and driving,” says Dr. Robert Mann, CAMH Senior Scientist and lead researcher. “Yet the risks of doing so are significant.”

Only 6% of young adults said they had driven after having two or more alcoholic drinks.

“Women are drinking more than in the past,” said Mann. “Several key drinking indicators show an increase among women.”

Six per cent of women had a pattern of drinking daily in 2011, compared to three percent in 1998. About 8% of women reported binge drinking, up from five per cent in 1998.

“Binge drinking also remains high, particularly among 18 to 29-year olds,” notes Dr. Mann. “Overall, nine per cent of Ontario drinkers consume five or more drinks at one time each week.”

About seven per cent of adults reported using an anti-anxiety medication in 2011, and seven percent took an antidepressant. These medications were most likely to be used by those aged 40 to 49, and in the case of antidepressants, by women in that age group.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor