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Toronto Drug Strategy Prevention Working Group

Guest post by Chidinma Nwakalor, an undergraduate placement student at PAD

On November 5th 2015, a Toronto Drug Strategy Prevention Working Group meeting was held at Metro Hall. The monthly meeting brings together representatives from community stakeholders around Toronto such as the YMCA, CAMH, Loft Community services, Toronto School District Board, Parent Action on Drugs, and Toronto Public Health.

The highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Erika Kandar, an epidemiologist with Toronto Public Health (TPH). She presented findings on a Toronto Public Health Survey of students from grade 7 – 12.

The survey showed that most students had a positive view of their self-esteem (80%) and school connectedness (85%). Unsurprisingly, there was a strong, consistent link between mental health and substance use.

The good news for Toronto, is that compared to students in Ontario, Toronto students are less likely to binge drink and use drugs like marijuana, cough medication and pain pills (without prescription). However, 26% of secondary school students still reported risky behaviors like binge drinking and mixing alcohol with energy drinks. Sub-groups of youth at risk for alcohol and drug use included: females, older students, students from low socio-economic backgrounds and LGB+ students. Canadian-born students were more likely to use alcohol compared to new immigrants.

Alcohol and drug use is concerning because these behaviours can affect the development of teenagers and may also lead to substance misuse. The responses on suicidal attempts and incidents of self-harm were even more worrisome. 11% of students reported engaging in self-harming behaviours like cutting or burning themselves on purpose within the past year. Around the same percentage (12%) also reported that they had seriously considered suicide within the past year.

At the meeting, the representatives from the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Public Health (who interact with high school students frequently) agreed that the numbers around suicidal attempts and self-harm from this survey might even be an underestimation.

Self-harm and suicidal attempts are signs of poor mental health and inadequate social support. These two factors need to be addressed to ensure that the incidents of self-harm, suicidal attempts, substance misuse and other risky behaviours are reduced among Toronto students.

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