About 65 young Canadians hospitalized a day for substance related harm: CIHI report

A new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information is showing how frequently young Canadians are admitted into hospitals for substance use.

The report titled ‘Hospital Stays for Harm Caused by Substance Use Among Youth Age 10 to 24’ found from 2017 to 2018, one out of every 20 hospital stays among youth in Canada was related to harmful substance use. The report also found cannabis and alcohol to be the most common substances associated with hospital stays among youth. The data shows cannabis accounted for 40 per cent of hospital stays in the age group, whereas alcohol was associated with 26 per cent.

Dr. Ginette Poulin, the medical director for the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba and an addictions physician, told CTV News that it may be surprising to some that cannabis is number one.

“Because I think that in the society today, the cultural view is that it’s pretty benign,” she said. “The reality is any substance has effects both negative and positive. What we are starting to see is that there’s more incidence or what we call adverse events related to cannabis that are lending to emergency visits and hospitalizations. That could be intoxication, associated cardiac, respiratory, or neuro events.”

She herself is not surprised.

“What we are seeing in terms of prevalence of youths, certainly from our data at the AFM, is that most youth that come and present for help with addictions, cannabis is the number one reported substance.”

Poulin added that cannabis products are not the same now as they were even a decade ago, noting some have a much higher levels of THC.

“The TCH is what has impacts on the brain and other parts of our body which can manifest sometimes in things like psychosis or a mental health disorder, and I think these are the things that we are starting to see. Another thing is with the intoxications or overdoses, we’re starting to see a number of youth or children coming in intoxicated after having consumed an edible form of cannabis,” she said.

Poulin also said when it comes to cannabis and addiction, there still are many unknowns.

“We are learning as we go, more of the full appreciation of the spectrum of effects,” she said.

Another finding from the report that stood out to Poulin is that one in seven hospitalizations also included treatment for a concurrent mental health condition.

“We know the link traditionally from both mental health and addictions has been strong and I think this is another testament to quite how strong it is in the youth, and it also can be one of the reasons why a youth might use substances, perhaps to try and self-medicate for some of the symptoms related to a mental health disorder,” she said. “What that can look like, for example, someone who has anxiety or depression what they start doing is using substances to numb some of those negative associations.”

Poulin said we may need to start educating kids even earlier on addictions and mental health than we are now.

“As you look at the data from CIHI, reports are from ages 10 and up and so I think we need to do education targeted at our youth and much younger ages, we need to have that open discussion, we need to offer treatments, we need to have real conversations to break down some of that stigma that associated with addictions and mental health.”