Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Getting high: Quebecers push Canada to top of list

Were it not for prodigious pot use in Quebec, Canada would not have placed first in a United Nations drug study of marijuana use in the industrialized world.

In fact, were Quebec a sovereign nation, it would have finished first ahead of Canada, according to a breakdown of data supplied by Canada for the study.

The biggest difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada is seen in the youngest age groups. According to the Health Canada 2002 Youth Smoking Survey, which looked at marijuana as well as tobacco, 32 per cent of students in Grades 7 to 9 in Quebec have smoked marijuana at least once.

This compares with 18 per cent in British Columbia, which ranked second in Canada, and 11 per cent in Ontario, which ranked lowest among provinces and territories.

The 2007 World Drug Report of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs made headlines last week when it said Canada topped the list of industrialized nations for marijuana use.

Spain topped the world for cocaine, Iran for heroin, Australia for ecstasy and the Philippines for amphetamines.

In the Montreal area, police say, marijuana consumption has become a particular problem in the booming suburbs north of Montreal and Laval.

Of the 10 high schools in metropolitan Montreal that saw the greatest number of police interventions related to drug use in 2005, nine were in the northern suburbs, according to an analysis of police records in February by the Journal de MontrEal.

Schools in Terrebonne and Mascouche had the worst drug problems, according to the Journal study, which involved 83 access-to-information requests from 163 high schools in 41 Montreal-area municipalities, including the city of Montreal.

No English-language schools were in the top 25 list.

Overall, marijuana use in Quebec is running 12 per cent higher than the national average, according to the most recent inter-provincial comparison, the 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey, co-ordinated by Health Canada. That was the main study used by the UN to determine Canadian consumption.

In Quebec, addiction experts say, marijuana has surpassed alcohol as the drug for which young people are most likely to seek treatment in publicly funded rehabilitation centres.

"It's really cannabis (i.e., marijuana) that is the substance that is the most problematic among youths that come to treatment centres today - more than for alcohol, certainly," said Michel Landry, director of research for the Centre Dollard Cormier.

The centre co-ordinates publicly funded drug rehabilitation services in the Montreal region for Quebec's Health Department.

Alcohol still causes more societal problems in terms of risky sexual behaviour, property damage and person-on-person violence, Landry said. And overall, marijuana is still considered among the "least addictive of all psycho-active substances," said Jurgen Rehm, a senior scientist with the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

But marijuana, for whatever reason, is becoming more of a worry to those who actually use it, or at least those who believe they are dependent on it.

Whether increased demand among Quebec youth for marijuana-related rehab services reflects the escalating potency of the illegal crop, or the prevalence of grow operations in southwestern Quebec, are not questions that are easily answered, Landry said.

The 2007 World Drug Report found 16.8 per cent of Canadians age 15 to 64 used marijuana in 2004; only four countries, all non-industrialized, had higher rates - Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia, Ghana and Zambia.

The 16.8 per cent figure was arrived at after making adjustments to the data sent to the UN by Canada. The data, which consisted mainly of the Canadian Addiction Survey findings, found 14.1 per cent of Canadians admitted to using marijuana at least once in 2004. The figure for Quebec was 15.8 per cent, so Quebec consumption was found to be running 12 per cent higher than national consumption overall.

In Quebec, the Institut de la statistique du QuEbec tracked 5,000 high school students in grades 7 to 11 from 2000 through 2004 and found consumption rates had dropped to 35 per cent from 40 per cent in that period.

Landry and Rehm said policy-makers shouldn't get too concerned by data over lifetime or past-year consumption rates, by which a certain percentage of people are said to have tried marijuana at least once in their lives, or at least once in the past year.

The key figure for addiction experts is chronic consumption. And as far as marijuana is concerned, Landry and Rehm said, all the data suggest only five to 15 per cent of Canadian marijuana users are "problem" users - a proportion that is more or less the same for users of alcohol and other drugs.

source: The Montreal Gazette

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