In September 2019, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) published its study on the hospitalization of youth aged 10 to 24. The study shows that one out of every twenty hospital stays in this age group is attributable to drug or alcohol use.
Some Unsettling Facts
Youth aged 10 to 24 are part of a population group that is vulnerable to the effects of substances such as cannabis, alcohol and opioids. Early use of these substances has been shown to significantly increase the risk of developing consumption habits that lead to dependence and health problems. The CIHI study is all the more important given the lack of indicators on harms caused by drug and alcohol use among youth. Since 2003, youth and young adults accounted for the highest increase in the number of emergency room visits due to alcohol use.
The CIHI study found there were more than 23,580 hospitalizations for substance related issues among Canadian youth in 2017-2018, the equivalent of 65 hospitalizations per day throughout the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The study states that 30% of these youth were admitted to the emergency department for treatment of a substance dependence or withdrawal, and approximately 15% were treated for psychotic disorders induced by substance use. Moreover, 69% of substance-related hospitalizations included treatment for a co-occurring mental health issue: as stated in the study, this “was nearly double what was observed in adults age 25 and older”.
Cannabis and Alcohol at Issue
Cannabis is responsible for nearly 40% of substance-related hospitalizations among youth aged 10 to 24 and as such is the substance most commonly associated with hospital stays in that age group. Alcohol is the second most commonly associated substance, accounting for just over 26% of substance-related hospitalizations. By comparison, among adults 25 and older, cannabis was involved in only 11% of hospital stays. Cannabis appears to be the preferred drug among youth, a trend that is evidenced among 15 to 17 year-olds, as well as 18 to 24 year-olds. While the trend is less pronounced among 10 to 14 year-olds, cannabis nonetheless accounted for the highest number of substance-related hospitalizations in 2017-2018.
These figures are well known in the field of substance use treatment and recent surveys conducted in Portage’s rehabilitation centres across Canada confirm the trend. Eighty-eight percent of youth admitted for treatment at Portage indicate they have a cannabis dependence. The legalization of cannabis in 2018 has raised a number of questions on how to present a substance that, while now legal, is no less harmful. And while it is easy to understand the reasoning behind the efforts to control the provenance of cannabis, it is much harder to understand the reasoning behind the profit-driven sale of cannabis edibles. The cannabis market is thriving in Canada, but it is still largely dominated by a black market that is currently valued at over five billion dollars. According to Statistics Canada, 60% of cannabis is obtained from illegal sources. The Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC) estimates the black market still accounts for 82% of the cannabis industry.
Currently, the legal distribution of cannabis is struggling to keep up with consumer demand in Canada and cannot compete with the black market. While both alcohol and cannabis are legal substances, they are nonetheless a public health issue.
 Institut canadien d’information sur la santé. Séjours à l’hôpital en raison de méfaits causés par l’utilisation de substances chez les jeunes de 10 à 24 ans, septembre 2019. Ottawa, ON : ICIS; 2019.
 Myran DT, Hsu AT, Smith G, Tanuseputro P. Rates of emergency department visits attributable to alcohol use in Ontario from 2003 to 2016: A retrospective population-level study. Journal de l’Association médicale canadienne. 2019.