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November 27, 2004 - The Winnipeg Sun (CN MB)

We Need A New Drug Strategy

By Mindelle Jacobs, columnist for the Edmonton Sun

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

In the wake of a new study showing increased drug use, the hunt continues for the elusive -- more likely impossible -- prevention strategy that will keep Canadians straight and sober.

Given human nature, we might be better off inventing a mood-altering substance with no harmful or long-lasting side effects.

That way, those who wanted to get stoned could do so without social censure.

And it would be cheaper than the vast amounts of money governments have spent over the decades on the war on drugs.

That's what I dreamed about the other night: harried Canadians hauling their butts home from work, popping a magic pill and getting stoned with Ottawa's blessing.

No worries about addiction, carcinogens or other dangerous consequences. It's the perfect antidote for our hyper, angst-ridden society. Health Canada should get right on it.

Oh, wait. That makes too much sense. Ottawa would never go for it.

So we are left to ponder the reality of our frazzled, post-modern culture -- a growing proportion of Canadians love to get high.

According to the Canadian Addiction Survey, released Wednesday, 14% of those polled reported they'd used pot in the last year -- up from 7.4% a decade ago.

The good news is that 21% of the past-year users said they didn't toke up in the previous three months and 25% of the past-year users had smoked pot just once or twice.

The bad news is that 18% of past-year users use marijuana daily.

As well, about one-third of past-year users reported failing to control their use and a strong desire to smoke pot and about 16% said friends or relatives expressed concern about their pot use.

The results suggest that intervention strategies should target those whose drug use is most acute, says Michel Perron, of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, which was involved in the survey.

The difficulty is there is no "tidy, simple" anti-drug message, he notes.

Demonizing marijuana failed so experts must come up with a plan that will "resonate" with young people, he says.

"Prevention is complicated," Perron adds.

The survey also found that 79% of the people surveyed were drinkers, up from 72% in 1994. About 7% of those polled are frequent heavy drinkers (at least five drinks more than once a week), up from 5.4% a decade ago.

The biggest boozers are males aged 18 to 24, according to the study. One-quarter of men and 9% of women are high-risk drinkers.

Not surprisingly, booze causes all sorts of problems, the respondents said. One in 10 people polled said someone's drinking was responsible for family and marriage problems.

About 15% said they'd had serious arguments because of someone's boozing and 11% were pushed or shoved as a result.

Heavy drinking is particularly prevalent in Alberta and the Atlantic provinces. And lifetime use of pot is significantly higher than the national average in Alberta and B.C.

Although about one in six Canadians has used an illicit drug other than pot at some point, rates of such drug use in the past year are generally 1% or less.

The report only focused on drug use and its related harms. The risk factors and why people use drugs will be addressed in a future study.

For instance, this study found, startlingly, that lifetime pot use increases with education and income. As yet, we don't know why.

Perron says he did a double take when he read that finding.

"We've got to dig deeper into this."

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