Kitchener-Waterloo

Instagram survey reveals how, when and why youth in Guelph, Wellington County use opioids

A recent survey on opioid use among teenagers and young adults in Guelph and Wellington County sheds light on how young people locally are using the powerful drugs.

Research conducted online by the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy

In this Aug. 17, 2018 file photo, family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn. A recent survey conducted by the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy asked young people about how, when and why they used opioids (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

A recent survey on opioid use among teenagers and young adults in Guelph and Wellington County sheds light on how local young people are using the powerful drugs. Those who responded to the survey said they tended to use prescription rather than street opioids, and that these drugs were relatively easy to get a hold of. 

The research was conducted online by the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy earlier this spring. Using Instagram, the group polled people between the ages of 14 and 24 who had used opioids about their experience with the drugs. 

The results reveal what life is actually like for teens and young adults who use opioids, said Adrienne Crowder, who is the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy Manager.

"It's not like 'those kids' who hang out in 'that place'," said Crowder. "These are youth who live in our community, who go to school, who live at home, who are using an opioid to manage emotional pain, or to use it for pleasure."

'Die before they get a chance to live'

The research project received ethics approval from the Community Research Ethics Office at St. Paul's University College, which is affiliated with the University of Waterloo, Crowder said.

The research does have some limitations. The survey used a small sample size and was conducted through social media, which means that some people who met the requirements for the study may not have been able to participate.

The Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy said that, of the 53 youth who responded: 

  • 87 per cent said that it was easy or somewhat easy to get opioids.
  • 84 per cent used prescription opioids, rather than street opioids.
  • 62 per cent said they use opioids at home or at a friend's home.
  • 53 per cent said they started using opioids between the ages of 15 and 18, though some said they started at 13 or younger. 

The respondents were also asked what concerns they had about youth who use opioids. Addiction and possible overdose were common answers.

"I'm worried that they will die before they ever get the chance to live," one person wrote.

Crowder said she, too, is worried about possible overdose and addiction.  

"Opioids are powerful drugs," said Crowder. "If someone uses them frequently, the physiological tolerance gets built up and then people start using more of them, so that's definitely a concern.".

So far, in 2020, there have been 18 overdose deaths in Guelph, according to Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health. 

What to do next

Crowder said the survey shows where health officials and community partners can take action to help stop opioid use among young people.

One idea could be to work with local pharmacists to make sure that people who pick up prescriptions also have a safe place to keep them, she said.

Because some youth said they started to use opioids as young teenagers, Crowder said information about opioids and possible risks should be communicated as early as possible. Family members and parents should also receive education about safety and harm reduction, she said.

Beyond that, Crowder said it's important to invest in youth and family programs in Guelph and Wellington County that will help them build resilience.  

"If youth are using as a way to try and create pleasure in their life or as a way to reduce emotional stress in their life, it really begs the question of, what else would help them manage the emotional pressures or help them have fun?" said Crowder.

Crowder said the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy will share their results with youth service providers in the community and look at opportunities for action.

Corrections

  • Based on a typo in an infographic provided by the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy, a previous version of this story indicated that 72 per cent of youth who responded to the survey consume opioids in a home setting. In fact, it is 62 per cent.
    Oct 21, 2020 2:58 PM ET

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