Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Research

Psychoactive prescription drugs are among the most commonly used substances in Canada, with 22% of the population over the age of 15 years old reporting past-year use according to the 2017 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey. While these substances are intended to address specific medical conditions, it is also important to recognize problematic use and potential harms related to their use. The research section provides information on the demographic trends of psychoactive prescription drug use, topic summaries and reports, and care pathways to guide treatment for prescription drug harms.

Demographic Trends for
Prescription Drug Use

Demographic Trends for Prescription Drug Use

According to the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs survey, approximately 6.5 million Canadians reported using psychoactive prescription drugs in 2017, with a higher prevalence of use reported among females. In addition, problematic use of psychoactive prescription drugs in Canada is slowly on the rise meaning that an increased number of Canadians are experiencing prescription drug related harms. To learn more about the costs and harms of a broad range of substances in Canada, including prescription and non-prescription opioids, sedatives and stimulants, please see Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms (2007–2014).

CCSA annually updates drug summaries that explore the dynamic trends in substance use across Canada, as well as the properties of the drugs and associated harms with their use. These publications address what we know about the health effects of various substances, their legal status and past-year use trends, and what needs further investigation.

Canadian Drug Summaries

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Care Pathways

Care Pathways

Each person’s experiences with a substance use disorder is different: their lives, challenges and desired outcome can vary greatly. Where one individual might benefit from all of the services available to them, others might choose to engage with only a few services. Overall, it is important to ensure comprehensive care and treatment options are available to meet an individuals’ needs.

To ensure more efficient and better quality treatment and support for prescription drug harms, CCSA has developed care pathways. They work hand-in-hand with Considerations for Developing and Implementing Care Pathways, a resource that overviews care pathway goals and factors for success.

The care pathways are available for both youth and older adults and move from an awareness of harms to screening to evaluating a patient’s readiness to change, followed by assessment, treatment options, and relapse prevention and recovery. The pathways can be adapted to the context in which they are applied.

The care pathways are available for both youth and older adults and move from an awareness of harms to screening to evaluating a patient’s readiness to change, followed by assessment, treatment options, and relapse prevention and recovery. The pathways can be adapted to the context in which they are applied.

In each pathway, colour is used to indicate research findings (blue) and expert opinion (yellow). The latter derive from those working in primary care, psychiatry, psychology and individuals with lived experience. Gaps in knowledge are also identified (pink).

Care Pathways for Youth Experiencing Prescription Drug Harms

Youth in Canada have higher rates of psychoactive prescription drug use than the general adult population (25 years or older). They are also more likely to experience harms — such as dependence, addiction, illness, overdose and death — from the use of prescription drugs as their brains are still developing. Youth that use substances are also more at risk of developing later drug dependence, poly-substance use and possible use of riskier drugs. As a result, there is a need for effective treatment across a continuum of care for youth and their unique needs.

Care Pathways for Youth Experiencing Prescription Drug Harms

Older adults (aged 65 and over) have higher rates of psychoactive prescription drug use compared to the general population (aged 15 years and over), which elevates their risk of experiencing related harms, including misuse, addiction, falls, cognitive impairment and medication interactions. There is an increasing need for evidence-based treatment for older adults to enhance the quality of care across the treatment continuum.

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