Drug use is a topic of great concern in both Canada and the United States; each year, injuries, illness and deaths related to drug use costs Canadians millions in health care dollars. The use of drugs, from alcohol and marijuana to heroin and cocaine, is monitored as much as possible in order to watch for trends and changes in drug use patterns. Although our knowledge of the actual levels of use is limited and dependent on the willingness of survey participants to give honest answers, drug use statistics show a general decrease in the use of drugs among Canadians 15 and over.
While this is good news, there are some areas where drug use statistics are frightening. For instance, the average age for the first use of alcohol among respondents to a Health Canada survey was 15.9 years, while the first use of cannabis was 15.7 years old. This tells us that not only are teens trying alcohol and marijuana when they are exceptionally young, but also that both drugs are introduced at around the same time.
Statistics on Drug Use among Youth
In 2010, Health Canada’s survey of Canadian youth aged 15 to 24 indicated that the use of drugs is on the decline. The statistics show lower levels of drug use across the board for this age group:
- Use of cannabis decreased more than 10% since 2004, from 37% to 25.1%
- Use of alcohol in the previous year declined from 82.9% to 71.5%
- Use of five drugs (heroin, crack/cocaine, speed, hallucinogens and ecstasy) declined from 11.3% to 7%
In spite of a general decline in drug use, not all is as good as it appears. Youth aged 15-24 are using drugs at a much higher rate than their older counterparts. The 25.1% using cannabis may be a decrease from previous years, but it is still far above the rate of use by Canadians over 25, which is 7.9%.
In the US, drug use statistics among youth are similar and also in decline. The latest report from the CDC has 21% of American youth using marijuana. American youth have seen a decrease in use of other major illicit drugs with the exception of methamphetamines and heroin, both of which have remained steady. The CDC reports that 42% of youth under the age of 21 use alcohol; this is difficult to compare to the Canadian statistics which include youth who are over the legal age. American youth generally try marijuana younger than Canadian youth: 14 years old is the average. First use of alcohol is similar, at 15.7 years old.
Statistics on Drug Use among Adults
In Canada, the use of drugs in the over 25 population is much lower than among youth, and has been declining. Canadians aged 25 and over generally use illicit drugs at a lower rate and continue to use them less frequently over time:
- Use of cannabis among adults decreased from 10% to 7.9% and is well below the rate of use among those under 25.
- Use of other illicit drugs among adults (excluding cannabis) is at 0.8%, well below the 7% for youth.
- Use of alcohol among adults has remained steady with alcohol use patterns showing that 35.7% of Canadians consider themselves light infrequent drinkers, 32.2% light frequent drinkers, and 4.3% heavy frequent drinkers.
In the United States, the most current drug use statistics provide information for all groups ages 12 and up, making it difficult to compare drug use between adults in the two nations. For alcohol use, 52% of Americans ages 18 and up report regular drinking, while 13% report infrequent drinking.
The Impact of Drug Use
Although the statistics on drug use tell us how many people are using drugs, they often fail to address important facts – the impact that drug and alcohol use has on the lives of individuals who indulge and those close to them.
In 2010, 14.6% of Canadians reported that they experienced some form of harm due to alcohol use, while 2.1% reported some harm as a result of drug use. In 2007, over 1,200 traffic fatalities and over 120,000 injuries occurred as a result of alcohol use. And that is just in traffic collisions – collisions on boats, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles account for a substantial number of more deaths and injuries.
In 2009, a US report found that deaths from drug use had outstripped deaths in traffic accidents. Drug and alcohol use entails very real danger that goes far beyond what is reported in drug use statistics. Although the trends show a decline in the general use of drugs, the associated risks remain considerable.