The family medicine cabinet has become a choice source for drugs among teenagers while traditional drug use is declining, according to a new survey.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) released its annual survey of drug and alcohol habits among teens this week. It showed new sources of concern for parents and drug researchers while other types of drug use dropped.

A codeine cough syrup-laced drink most commonly known as “lean” and “purple drink” is becoming more popular, the report reads. Students are also experimenting with other over-the-counter drugs. The CAMH survey found one in eight students have tried at least something from the medicine cabinet, mirroring results from a CBC Hamilton report that shows opiate use is becoming more prevalent in Hamilton.

'The risk is overdose, pure and simple.' - Sue Kennedy, executive director of Alternatives for Youth

“There is certainly an increase in over-the-counter drug use, that’s for sure,” said Sue Kennedy, the executive director of Alternatives for Youth, a local addictions counselling service.

“You see spikes — especially in opiate use — over the last several years.”

Kennedy says one of the biggest risks students face isn’t any one particular drug, but rather the propensity young people have to mix them.

“Swallow some codeine, pop an E, smoke a joint — all good, right? Not necessarily,” Kennedy said. “The risk is overdose, pure and simple.”

More than 33,000 Ontario teens smoke every day, report says

She also pointed out that as only students were surveyed, the results aren’t representative of an entire population of young people. Additional trends for transient youth for different drugs could also pop up, she says.

This year also marks the first time in 36 years of running the survey that researchers have asked about e-cigarettes, a kind of aerosol nicotine inhaler. Almost 100,000 Ontario students say they've smoked them.

"I see some people walking in the halls smoking them actually," said Roberta Ferrence, of the Ontario tobacco research unit. "It's an aerosol and we don't know enough yet about what's in it or what it does to you."

Cigarette smoking did not show any increase this year, but it's not decreasing either. More than 33,000 Ontario teens still say they smoke every day. Many more are occasionally smoking marijuana.

The report also highlights some significant decreases in drug use among teens. Since 1999, binge drinking, pot smoking, ecstasy, cocaine and LSD use have all declined. 

About 10 per cent of students with a drivers licence reported driving after smoking pot, which is considered impaired driving. Kennedy called that “very high risk behavior.”

If anything, she says, people should be focusing on the underlying reasons that young people use drugs over the drugs themselves. Trauma is often the root cause of drug use and abuse, Kennedy says.

“That’s what society needs to focus its attention on moving forward,” she said.

“We need to get that discussion going among young people.”