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Opioids in high schools on the rise

  • January 10, 2018
Ontario teens are drinking and smoking less than previous generations, but a survey shows another dangerous substance is quickly raising alarm bells: fentanyl.

A recent survey conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) revealed that while the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana dropped in 2017, one per cent of high school students in Ontario admitted to using fentanyl in the past year.

It’s the first time CAMH has included fentanyl and opioids in its annual survey, which comes as the number of reported deaths in Canada from opioid-related overdoses in 2017 is estimated at more than 4,000.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, calls opioid use a “national public health crisis.”
The statistics and growing number of fentanyl overdoses have led Catholic school boards to discuss stocking schools with lifesaving naloxone kits.

“Normally new drugs don’t infiltrate the school population and the numbers are too small for us to report on. Unfortunately we have a statistic for fentanyl this year,” said Dr. Robert Mann, a senior scientist at CAMH and co-lead of the survey. “One per cent sounds low, but that’s 6,000 students across the province who are putting themselves at great risk.”

Fentanyl is an opioid used in medicine as anesthesia or a painkiller. When used recreationally, the consequences can be fatal.

“It’s very powerful,” said Mann. “Even a small amount can lead to an overdose or death. When used inappropriately, it is incredibly dangerous.”

The concerns over fentanyl led some Ontario Catholic school boards, including Ottawa and Eastern Ontario, to stock naloxone kits in school in case of a student overdose. These kits contain antidotes capable of reversing the effects of an opioid overdose.

The need for these kits in schools has been a subject of debate among other school boards in Southern Ontario, including the Catholic boards in Toronto and Hamilton Wentworth districts.

“It (stocking naloxone kits in schools) has come up in our board meetings,” said Jenny Athanasiou-Malisa, manager of social work for the Hamilton Catholic board.
“As of right now, it is important that we are educated about the drug and its risks.”

Although the grim statistics on fentanyl stand out, the survey had several positive statistics to report, including a drastic decrease in tobacco consumption and driving while intoxicated. In the last 20 years, tobacco use has dropped from 28 to seven per cent, and drinking and driving is down 10 points to 4.2 per cent.

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