P.E.I. parent warns of dangers of teen drug and alcohol use

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on July 28, 2015


Margaret Smith says she thought her teenage son was simply going through a rebellious phase in high school when his marks began to slip.

He was skipping school, offering no explanation.

Then one night, Smith - whose name The Guardian has changed to protect her son’s identity got the phone call every parent fears.

Her son had been rushed to hospital with alcohol poisoning.

“He was binge drinking near the Confederation Trail. He and a friend passed out cold and were left there by the rest of the group who were afraid of getting into trouble,” she told The Guardian.

“One kid stayed behind and called the ambulance and then took off. Both my son and his friend got out of the hospital the next day. We thought he must have learned a very valuable lesson, but he didn’t.”

Around the end of Grade 12, her son was arrested at school for drug use.

He had become addicted to opiates and was found snorting pills in a car at lunchtime.

“He put in 12 full years of school but did not graduate because he missed so many classes,” the mother lamented.

“My academic, French-immersion band student became a high school dropout.”

She found out later it all began at the age of 14, when he began using alcohol and marijuana, hiding it from his parents.

Her family’s experiences mirror results contained within the Prince Edward Island Student Drug Use Report, released last week by the provincial government.

The survey shows alcohol has been the predominant drug of choice for P.E.I. teens over the last nine years and continues to be the No. 1 drug used by youth in the province.

The results derive from the Youth Smoking Survey a Health Canada sponsored classroom survey completed by students in Grades 6-12.


The most recent results from 2012-13 show 39 per cent of students from Grades 7-12 reported consuming alcohol in the last 12 months, and of those who did, a whopping 81 per cent said they engaged in binge drinking.

The report notes P.E.I. students “have a culture of binge drinking that appears to begin at the Grade 9 level.”

Dr. Carolyn Sanford, provincial epidemiologist with the chief public health office, says high levels of binge drinking are not exclusive to teens in P.E.I.

“We know that we live in a culture in this province of binge drinking and we see higher heavy drinking rates among adults as well as our kids,” she said.

“Using alcohol responsibly is one of the pillars of our provincial wellness strategy.”

A total of 24 per cent of students in Grades 7-12 reported using drugs other than alcohol or tobacco, similar to results in previous years.

Marijuana was the most popular non-alcohol drug of choice at 21 per cent, followed by painkillers at 10 per cent.

Eight per cent of students reported using tobacco.

The report noted a strong link between substance use and low self esteem as well as lower grades.

It also shows students say they tried these substances for the first time at the age of 14 or 15.

Smith’s son is now in his early 20s and is over two years in recovery from a serious addiction to prescription drugs.

Looking back, she says parents should never assume their child would not try using drugs or alcohol.

“The three most dangerous words are ‘not my kid.’ Many children experiment with drugs and alcohol and when they do, it is a game of Russian roulette,” she said.

“The more you know the more effective you will be, which might prevent a large downward spiral.”

The results of this survey are based on self-reporting. There is potential for students to exaggerate or deny certain behaviours, including substance abuse.



5 things about student drug use in P.E.I. in 2012-13

1. Alcohol is the most prevalent drug among Island students, with 39 per cent of students reporting using alcohol and 81 per cent of these reporting binge drinking

2. 24 per cent of students in Grades 7-12 reported using at least one drug other than tobacco/alcohol. 21 per cent reported using marijuana.

3. Eight per cent of students were smokers.

4. Typically males report more substance use compared to females.

5. Students that reported using substances reported lower self-esteem and lower marks in school.