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Ontario: Facing substance abuse in the region

Julianna Kerr

A local organization hopes to raise awareness about substance abuse in the region through film and community forums.

In the Mind's Eye 2006 is presented by the Community Safety & Crime Prevention Council (CS&CPC). The series of films and forums is meant to provide a glimpse into the world of addiction and crime in the region and runs until Nov. 28.

A recent workshop about drug and alcohol use kicked off the events. It highlighted trends, costs and implications for Waterloo Region. The workshop revolved around facts and figures compiled in a study for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Among chief findings is the financial cost of substance abuse, which amounts to almost $40 billion across the country (including health care, productivity losses, prevention and research, law enforcement and other costs).

"That cost is due to alcohol, illegal drug use and smoking," said Ben Taylor, research analyst with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. "In terms of reducing the costs – which is what the study focused on – we have to look at bringing consumption levels down."

Taylor said the workshop went well. There was a large range of people in attendance, which he said was unusual. Participants included members of the public and he said he thought that was a good sign that the community was ready to start dealing with the problems surrounding addiction and substance abuse. "Awareness would help," he said. "Everyone can see it (the issue). Everyone knows it's there, but it's hard to tackle. This tends to be chronic and ongoing throughout people's lives."

Taylor said the main message can be lost when an amount as high as $40 billion is mentioned. He said the number is so large that people can't always grasp what it means. "These are tax dollars," he said. "So what does it actually cost you? About $1,250 per year per person is going to treat an abuser or is lost as a result of consumption. The main message is that this does affect everybody. Everybody deals with it at some point in some way. Substance abuse is not even just a health-care problem. It's a social issue. And these costs have nothing to do with emotional costs."

The numbers compiled for the study were based on statistics from 2002. Jeff Wilbee, executive director of Addictions Ontario, said he believed the numbers for 2006 would probably be even more alarming than those between 1992 and 2002. "These figures got my attention," he said. "It would seem to me that logic would say we need to take a hard look at this. We know there's a problem but we don't really want to face it. What gets lost is the human face of this."

Wilbee said there is not enough intervention or treatment programs for those suffering from addictions. He said Ontario needs to be more strategic in facing these issues and broadening research to better manage the information surrounding addiction in the province. "We are making some headway," he said. "But we need to invest more money in looking at prevention. We know our children, our grandchildren, the vast majority of them are going to experiment. Maybe we can delay the age they start to experiment. We don't need to stick our heads in the sand. We, as a community, need to take these kinds of number very seriously."

Wilbee encouraged the public to take a look at the events provided by In the Mind's Eye to gain a better understanding of addiction on a local level. "Groups like this will change things more than policy makers," he said.

Upcoming In the Mind's Eye events include workshops about crystal methamphetamine, crack cocaine and substance use during pregnancy, the early years and in youth; as well as films highlighting different aspects of addiction and substance use.

Cost of substance abuse in Canada Based on statistics from 2002

$39.8 billion per year – tobacco ($17 billion), alcohol ($14.6 billion) and illegal drugs ($8.2 billion); 18 per cent of all hospital days in acute care are related to substance use; 15 per cent of all psychiatric hospitalizations; more than 600,000 acute care hospital diagnoses; approximately 320,000 admissions to inpatient and outpatient services; 9,827,935 total days of treatment; and more than one million days in bed (about $62 million in lost income).

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

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