An ounce of prevention...
By Donna MacMullin
Old habits die hard. This is the latest finding from researchers studying the history of drug use among youth in Ontario.
David DeWitt, a doctor at the Addiction Research Foundation in London, said the study was a joint effort conducted with colleagues at the Centre for Studies of Children at Risk at McMaster University.
Over 4,300 people aged 16 to 35 were studied, including some university students, DeWitt said. They were asked retrospective questions about their past experiences with tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.
DeWitt said his team wanted to take a different focus on substance abuse. "We think it is important to move beyond the aspect of prevalence and determine the underlying components of how people start using drugs," he said, adding they also studied those who had quit using drugs and their rates of return to use.
The results indicate the major risk period for tobacco, alcohol or illegal drug use starts around age 12 and peaks between age 15 and 19 and the earlier young kids experiment, the more difficult it is for them to stop. "We hope this would encourage programs for youth with a focus on prevention, rather than recovery," DeWitt said.
Richard Garlick, director of communications at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, agreed. "For every dollar spent on education there is a savings to society of $7," he said, adding this includes costs associated with treatment and enforcement.
However, Garlick said one of the obstacles hindering prevention is the difficulty of setting up evaluation methods to track the success of prevention campaigns among children.
"It's not good enough to say prevention is better," he said. "It's more difficult to get at what kind of prevention is effective."
Garlick cited the example of the "Just say no" ad campaign against drugs, which studies later proved was not a credible prevention tactic for kids.
"We must accept [children] will use drugs, but we have to focus on eliminating harmful use," Garlick said. "We need to be more realistic and still try to minimize risk which requires a much more sophisticated method."
Cyndy Camp, health education coordinator for Student Health Services at Western, said in terms of prevention, the alcohol awareness team is involved in a number of activities during the year. "[The team] encourages responsible drinking, but they don't preach abstinence," she said.
Camp added because university presents a climate where it is acceptable to drink and binge-drinking is prevalent, it is likely these habits can turn into long-term problems.