Alcohol was involved in more medical emergencies that sent young people to hospital emergency departments (EDs) than cannabis or opioids, according to a new study of 4,634 cases in three Canadian communities. In a four-year study of EDs in Sherbrooke, Que., Saskatoon, Sask., and the Greater Halifax region in Nova Scotia, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) found that emergencies involving alcohol represented close to 70% of the cases studied.
An Evaluation of Psychoactive Substances that Bring Youth to the Emergency Department focused on the presence of three psychoactive drugs, alcohol, cannabis and opioids, in visits to EDs by teenagers and young adults from 12 to 24 years old. The injuries included drug toxicity, falls, vehicle accidents, violence and self-harm, including suicide attempts.
Other key findings from the report include:
- 28% of the visits were by young people under the minimum legal drinking age in their region.
- More than one psychoactive substance had been consumed in nearly 40% of cases.
- A large proportion of young people arriving in the EDs had previously visited for a substance-related emergency.
“This study highlights a need to pay closer attention to the substance use of young people in Canada,” said Alexander Caudarella, CCSA Chief Executive Officer. “Thousands of young people end up in Canada’s emergency departments every year because of alcohol and other substances. The fact that so many had previous ED presentations indicates we have a long way to go to ensure people get the help they need when they need it. This is especially urgent as the healthcare system looks for new options to reduce strain on emergency departments across Canada.”
When it comes to prevention and harm reduction, one size does not fit all. While there are similarities across regions, the findings also illustrate how select trends differ in each community. Because local trends often do not mirror what is happening on the national level, continuing to collect community-level data is important to inform local prevention and harm reduction programs, policies and practices.