May 23, 2013Dr. John Finley is the President of Doctors Nova Scotia and is a paediatric cardiologist in Halifax.
It’s clear from the recently released Student Drug Use Survey that Nova Scotia’s youth are engaging in unhealthy and dangerous behaviours at an earlier age and more often than ever before. This is yet another study to add to the growing list of research that indicates we have a growing problem in our province.
Although the study identifies concerning trends in several areas, I want to discuss the drug that’s being misused the most by our province’s youth – alcohol. Our youth are becoming more creative and finding new ways to consume more alcohol, faster. As a province, we need to adapt and make changes to better protect our province’s youth.
We have some alarming statistics in our province. Nova Scotia children reported taking their first drink at 13 years of age, and 27 per cent of students reported binge drinking in the last 30 days. Energy drink statics are even worse; nearly half of grade seven students reported consuming energy drinks in the 12 months prior to the survey. This increases to 71 per cent by grade 12.
According to a Canadian Medical Association Journal article published earlier this year, 25 percent of Nova Scotia’s youth in high school are mixing energy drinks with alcohol. This is one of the highest rates in the country.
We know that alcohol consumption puts individuals at an increased risk of being injured, visiting an emergency room, or experiencing sexual violence. There are also long-term consequences of over consuming alcohol such as an increased risk of developing cancer and other chronic diseases.
We also know that energy drinks have been reported in association with serious adverse effects, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults, with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavior disorder or those who take certain medications.
When alcohol and energy drinks are combined these risks increase. As a province we need to work together to address this very serious issue, and ask ourselves what’s happening in our province to encourage youth to consume alcohol in increasingly dangerous ways.
It’s important that as a province we all work together to better protect our youth from products we know are causing them harm. We reduced smoking rates among Nova Scotia youth from approximately 30 per cent to 13 per cent. This was done through a strategic effort to limit the availability of tobacco, reduce marketing exposure, increase education, and establish smoke free places. There are many lessons we can take away and apply from that research.
Doctors Nova Scotia urges the Nova Scotia government to begin working towards developing a culture of moderation around alcohol, and to restrict the sale of energy drinks to individuals under 19 years of age. We also urge government to move forward with policies to limit the capacity of our youth to mix alcohol and energy drinks.
It’s time for our province to address these growing issues.
John Finley, MDCM, FRCPC