May 3, 2006
addiction specialist urges province to close the gate to crystal meth
(Edmonton) – A specialist is calling for Alberta’s drug strategy to address tobacco use as a gateway drug for illicit drugs like methamphetamine (“crystal meth”).
“The evidence is compelling,” said Dr. Charl Els, a practicing psychiatrist, addiction specialist and regional director (Alberta) of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. “Kids don’t just start using illegal drugs, they experiment first with legal drugs, like tobacco. That’s why a strategy to reduce illicit drug use among teenagers must also address their vulnerability to tobacco use.”
Research has confirmed the ‘gateway’ theory that describes the sequential pattern to drug use. While not all smokers end up using illicit drugs, almost all illicit drug users begin with cigarettes. Tobacco use is considered to lead to both behavioural and physiological changes in adolescent smokers that increase their use of alcohol, marijuana, crystal meth and other psychoactive substances.
Dr. Els states that Alberta’s drug agencies can make a significant difference in curbing the addiction epidemic by applying this research to their strategies and have yet to integrate a tobacco component into all their drug prevention programs. “As a result, we are failing our youth,” said Els. “Both crystal meth and tobacco use are growing in Alberta – the first as a function of the second.”
Els points out that Alberta is behind Canada’s other provinces in failing to have provincial laws to curb tobacco marketing and promotions, such as powerwalls, to ban tobacco sales in pharmacies, or to have province-wide smoking bans. “Health Canada surveys showed a dramatic increase in youth smoking in Alberta by 30% in the first half of 2005,” cautioned Els.
“By failing to protect our youth from tobacco addiction, we increase their vulnerability to use other harmful drugs,” said Els.
Els is calling on Alberta drug agencies and health officials to support a comprehensive substance abuse strategy that includes tobacco prevention.
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For information: Dr. Charl Els c/o 613 233 4878