Why are BC high school students making healthier choices?

Teens sometimes get a bad rap for being careless with their bodies and minds. But according to McCreary Centre Society’s 2013 Adolescent Health Survey, published in February 2014, most of the 30,000 BC youth surveyed say they are healthy or very healthy (87 percent), and 8 out of 10 report good or excellent mental health (81 percent). The majority also said they feel cared for, competent and confident about their future.

Along with feeling good about themselves and their world, more young people are steering clear of alcohol and other drugs. Survey results show substance use rates have been declining over the last 10 years, and the majority of students in Grades 7 through 12 say they have never experimented with alcohol, cannabis (marijuana) or tobacco.

Source: Smith, A., Stewart, D., Poon, C., Peled, M., Saewyc, E., & McCreary Centre Society (2014). From Hastings Street to Haida Gwaii: Provincial results of the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey. Vancouver, BC: McCreary Centre Society.

Part of what’s driving this decline is that young people are waiting longer before trying drugs. For example, 35 percent of young people who have ever tried alcohol waited until they were 15 or older (compared to only 20 percent in 2003), and of those who have ever tried cannabis, 41 percent waited until they were 15 or older (compared to 28 percent in 2003).

Equally positive, youth who are choosing to use alcohol or other drugs seem to be taking fewer risks. For example, 2 percent of those who had ever used alcohol said they had driven after drinking in the past month, down from 6 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2003. There was also a decrease in impaired driving among youth who had ever used cannabis, although 9 percent had done so in the past month.

So, why are BC youth making healthier choices? A number of protective factors seem to be at play including family connectedness. For instance, youth who felt their family paid attention to them were less likely to drive after drinking than those who did not experience such attention (2 percent vs. 6 percent). They were also less likely to have been a passenger in a vehicle with someone who had been drinking (15 percent vs. 33 percent).

Having someone to confide in seems to make a difference too. Students with supportive adults in their lives are less likely to have used alcohol (43 percent vs. 54 percent). And, among students who had tried alcohol, those with an adult they could turn to were less likely to report binge drinking in the past month (37 percent vs. 42 percent). Youth in government care who had a supportive teacher or other caring adult in their lives were also less likely to binge drink in the past month.

What exactly does this mean for parents, teachers and other caring adults in young peoples’ lives? Many teens are making healthy and positive decisions and we can continue to support and acknowledge the positive decisions they are making. For teens who are struggling to maintain their health or happiness, we can make a difference by reaching out to them. Finally, we must continue leading by example. By being happy and healthy adults, we show young people that health itself is a worthy life-long goal.

For more information about the results from the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey: http://www.mcs.bc.ca/pdf/From_Hastings_Street_To_Haida_Gwaii.pdf


Author: Nicole Bodner, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC

Five numbers that will change how you think about drug overdoses

Drug overdoses get a lot of media attention when a celebrity passes away, be it Cory Monteith, Michael Jackson or Anna-Nicole Smith. However, there is little discussion about how to ensure that people who use drugs live to see another day so that they can seek treatment if and when they choose to. Through the five numbers below, we share with you a harm reduction approach that educates people on how to prevent, recognize and respond to opioid overdoses.


That’s the number of people who died in British Columbia in 2013 because of illicit drug overdoses. Opioids, such as heroin, morphine and codeine, suppress breathing which can  result in severe brain damage, and even death, due to lack of oxygen. We can reduce the number of accidental overdoses by educating the public on the factors that increase the risk of overdose, such as mixing drugs and alcohol.


That’s the percent of illicit drug overdoses that happen in the company of other people. Helping others learn to recognize the signs of overdose, and teaching them what to do in the case of an overdose, will increase the likelihood of being able to prevent death from overdoses. 


That’s the number of minutes it takes for naloxone to start reversing the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone is a safe, prescription-only medication that has been used for decades by paramedics and in emergency departments to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone can restore normal breathing within 1-5 minutes of administration, but the effects may wear off in 30-90 minutes and the overdose may return. Naloxone cannot be abused, does not cause a high, and has no effect on the body if opioids are not present. We can prevent accidental overdose deaths by equipping people with naloxone and training them on how to respond to an overdose.


That’s the number to call as soon as possible. Calling 9-1-1 is the first and most crucial step in overdose response. Medical attention is important even after naloxone is used. The effects of naloxone wear off and overdose may return, especially since some opioids (such as methadone and fentanyl) can last in the body for a long time. Naloxone only works for opioid overdoses and has no effects on other drugs or alcohol that a person may have taken; although removing the effects of the opioids helps in a multi-drug overdose. Medical professionals are trained to handle such situations.


That’s the number of lives that have been saved by take-home-naloxone kits in BC since August 2012. The kits are distributed as part of the BC Take Home Naloxone (BCTHN) program, an initiative of the Harm Reduction program at the BC Centre for Disease Control that aims to prevent unintentional deaths due to opioid use. At participating sites, clients learn how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose, and eligible participants are prescribed a take-home-naloxone kit. After 17 months, BCTHN operates in 35 sites across BC, from large urban hubs such as Vancouver and Surrey, to smaller rural centres such as Cranbrook, Campbell River and Fort St. John. Nearly a thousand people have been trained including staff and volunteers at health and social service agencies, as well as friends and family members of someone who uses drugs. Over 600 kits have been dispensed to clients who use opioids and various resource materials are being developed to assist community partners increase the reach of the program.

For more info, visit towardtheheart.com/naloxone

*Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC

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Authors: Ashraf Amlani (left), Harm Reduction Epidemiologist, BC Centre for Disease Control, and Jane Buxton (right), Harm Reduction Lead, BC Centre for Disease Control