The Drug Foundation welcomes new findings from the Youth19 Rangatahi smart study conducted by the Adolescent Health Research Group. We believe it will help prepare good public health approaches when it comes to young people and substance use.
The study is the latest in the Youth2000 survey series running since 2001, with more than 36,000 New Zealand young people surveyed to date.
While it was sad to see from the survey’s findings that an increasing number of young people are struggling with their mental health (and particularly over the last eight years), we’re encouraged by the reduction in youth substance use when it comes to alcohol and tobacco. We note that both these substances have regulated legal frameworks to control their supply and consumption and allow for better education, which highlights the importance of evidence-based regulation in reducing harm.
By comparison, the reductions in youth cannabis use appear to have plateaued and regular cannabis use, while low (4 percent reported using cannabis weekly or more), is now more common than cigarette use. Tobacco has had strict regulations and public health campaigns discouraging its use during the period since the first Youth 2000 survey.
The emergence of vaping has also occurred in an unregulated environment, with regulations from the Smokefree Environments (Vaping) Amendment Act passed last week. We are paying close attention to changes in vaping use from the recently passed act, and are expecting to see declines in youth use as a result.
The Drug Foundation is keen to keep working with others to prevent and reduce alcohol and other drug harm for young people. While it’s great that both cigarette smoking and binge drinking are decreasing among high school students, their prevalence is still too high and there is more work to be done. Reducing unequal impacts of both cigarette smoking and drinking needs to be a priority. For example, smoking is higher in Māori, Pacific, and low-income communities and small towns. Similarly, although binge drinking is common across the board, students in higher income communities are more likely to report binge drinking, and it is more common among older students and in rural areas.
We can’t see substance use in a vacuum. Many effective preventative approaches aren’t directly related to substance use at all, such as helping young people feel like they belong, that they can achieve, and helping them engage in positive activities. It was heartening to see most young people reported having good family and school relationships. For example, out of the secondary school students surveyed:
We can continue preventing substance use harm by strengthening these protective factors, creating good environments where young people can grow and have hope for the future, and continuing to support a shift towards social norms that do not include binge drinking. And for young people who need it, we need to make it easier to access healthcare as early as possible. Seventeen percent of Pakeha students reporting they did not or could not access healthcare when they wanted to at least once in the past year, and even more worryingly, 27 percent of Māori students and 25 percent of Pasifika students.
Visit www.youth19.ac.nz for more information.
Drug harm experts say funding for a nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses is critical in the face of an increasingly toxic drug supply and the emergence of powerful synthetic opioids.
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.