Trends in reported illegal narcotic use in Canada: 1956-1975

Sections

Introduction
Findings
Summary and conclusion
Acknowledgements
Bibliography

Details

Author: Irving ROOTMAN, Gilbert YARD
Pages: 13 to 22
Creation Date: 1978/01/01

Trends in reported illegal narcotic use in Canada: 1956-1975 *

Ph.D. Irving ROOTMAN Chief, Epidemiological Research Division
B.A. Gilbert YARD Intern, EpidemiologicaI Research Division, Non-Medical Use of Drugs Directorate, Health Protection Branch, Department o/Health and Welfare, Canada

Introduction

* This paper is an update of "Trends in reported illegal narcotic use in Canada: 1956-1973" (Rootman and Richman, 1975). As in the previous paper, the main source of information is the narcotic users index maintained by the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs (B.D.D.) of the Department of Health and Welfare of Canada. The B.D.D. narcotic users index is a record of known users of the drugs governed by the Narcotic Control Act in Canada.

As an information source, the B.D.D. index is not without limitations (Thomas, 1975) some of which are as follows:

  1. Not all habitual users of narcotics come to the attention of the Bureau (some users have no contact with police agencies or treatment centres).

  2. A variable time lag occurs between the advent of drug use and identification by the Bureau as a user.

  3. While some updating of the B.D.D. index occurs, there is no systematic way of identifying drug users who have died or left the country.

  4. There is some duplication of names due to the common usage of aliases among drug users.

  5. Varied data sources (with varied objectives) produce varying types of information on drug users (e.g. police versus physician).

  6. Varying intensities of enforcement both within and between departments means that reports may reflect police activity rather than extent of drug use.

  7. A wide range of factors, including frequency or duration of drug use, mode of administration, dosage level, motivations for use and the social and legal conditions of use, are usually not available through the B.D.D. index.

In any event, the B.D.D. figures reflect all convictions under the Narcotic Control Act, and all individuals who come to the attention of pharmacies and addiction treatment centres for administration of methadone. Additionally physicians and other sources such as B.D.D. inspectors contribute information to the index. It has been and still is the most comprehensive source of information on Illicit users, according to the B.D.D., include all cases for whom the source of the narcotic was initially illicit. Not all persons classified as illicit users have been convicted under the Narcotic Control Act, although in the past this has been true of the majority of cases. Illicit users are retained in the index until reports of death or deportation are received, or until a period of ten years without further adverse information has elapsed.

*This paper is one of a series of collaborative studies between the Epidemiological Research Division, Non-Medical Use of Drugs Directorate and the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs which are both part of the Health Protection Branch, Department of Health and Welfare, Canada. narcotic users in Canada. Thus, analysis of data in the index currently provides the best description of trends in narcotic use in Canada, although other sources can provide useful supplementary information (Sanderson, 1977; Stoddart, 1977; Thomas, 1977).

Licit or therapeutic drug users are "persons who have some medical condition upon which dependence has become superimposed or... who become dependent through medical treatment. Few persons in this class have any criminal background." (B.D.D. Annual Report, 1973.) Licit users are dropped from the index if there are no reports of continued use for five years.

Professional users are "members of the medical or allied professions" (B.D.D. Annual Report, 1973) on whom reports have been received involving use of narcotics. Such cases are dropped if there have been no adverse reports received for five years.

Prior to 1976, data on individual narcotics users known to the Bureau were stored on McBee cards (Rootman and Richman, 1975). In 1976 a computerized system was introduced for data storage and analysis. Tabulations describing the total group of cases in the index (reported prevalence) have been prepared and published annually by the B.D.D. since 1955.

Findings

This report focuses on changes over time in B.D.D. statistics in an attempt to show trends in the prevalence of illicit narcotic drug use in Canada during the past twenty years (tables 1 and 2). In order to update information presented in the earlier paper (Rootman and Richman, 1975) particular attention has been paid to the years 1973 to 1975 with an emphasis on a comparison between the Province of British Columbia and the rest of the country.

Up to and including 1975, British Columbia statistics included data on the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Because drug use in the Yukon and Northwest Territories has only recently become significant, this tabulation procedure will cause little if any distortion of trends in the tables.

In addition to studying the prevalence of drug use in Canada, this report attempts (table 3) to identify the incidence of new illicit drug use during the years 1973 through 1975, using B.D.D. index figures on newly reported known drug users. B.D.D. figures on incidence prior to 1973 are not comparable with figures for 1973-1975, and have not been considered in this study.

TABLE 1

Narcotic drug users in Canada known to the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs in selected years (1956-75) by category and location

   

1956

1966

1969

1971

1973

1974

1975

Canada
               
Illicit a
Number
2678 3182 3 733 6425 10250 12194 13927
 
Rate
25 24 26 42 64 75 83
Licit a
Number
352 259 178 155 150 168 175
 
Rate
3 2
I
1 1 1 1
Professional a
Number
211 151 149 116 114 125 142
 
Rate
2 1 1 1 1 1 1
British Columbia
               
lllicit
Number
1570 2023 2449 4112 6276 7033 7516
 
Rate
158 156 167 261 369 396 409
Licit
Number
37 32 27 31 29 29 31
 
Rate
4 2 2 2 2 2 2
Professional
Number
16 13 14 15 14 17 20
 
Rate
2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Other provinces
               
Illicit
Number
1108 1159 1284 2313 3979 5161 6411
 
Rate
11 10 10 17 28 35 43
Licit
Number
315 227 151 124 121 139 144
 
Rate
3 2 1 1 1 1 1
Professional
Number
195 138 135 101 100 108 122
 
Rate
2 1 1 1 1 1 1

Source: Bureau of Dangerous Drugs Annual Reports.

NOTE. Rate is per 100,000 population aged 15 and over. For all years the British Columbia figures include the drug use statistics of the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The number of cases involved however, is so small as to cause little distortion in trends.

a See text for definition of category.

Reported prevalence

  1. Category

    Table 1 shows the number and rates of reported narcotics users in Canada in selected years between 1956 and 1975 by category (illicit, licit and professional) and location. It is apparent from this table that there was a substantial increase in the number of illicit narcotics users known to the B.D.D. between those years. Specifically, the increase in numbers over the entire time period was 11,249 or 420 per cent, with the largest increases taking place between 1969 and 1973. Over the period 1971 to 1973, the number of reported illicit drug users increased by 3,825, while the period 1973 to 1975 showed an increase of 3,677. These trends in absolute number are reflected in the population-based rates. The rate of illicit narcotic users known to the B.D.D. increased from 25 per 100,000 population age 15 and over in 1956, to 64 in 1973 and 83 in 1975.

    The licit user rate decreased from 3 per 100,000 to 1 in 1969 and remained at 1 until 1975. The professional user rate dropped from 2 to 1 per 100,000 over this time period.

  2. Location

    Since the 1950s the main concentration of known illicit narcotics users has been in British Columbia. In 1973, 61 per cent of the illicit users in Canada were found in British Columbia, which had only 10 per cent of the Canadian population aged 15 and over. By 1975 the user percentage had decreased to 54 per cent and the population percentage had increased to 11 per cent. For the purposes of this report therefore, British Columbia is reported separately from the other provinces.

    In British Columbia, the levelling off of known users noted above has been much more pronounced than in the rest of the country since 1973. Between 1973 and 1975 the rate per 100,000 population in British Columbia increased only 11 per cent (from 369 to 409) while in the other provinces combined it increased 54 per cent (from 28 to 43).

  3. Sex and age

    Table 2 presents numbers and rates of all known illicit narcotics users in Canada by sex, age and location, from 1956 to 1975. A number of patterns emerge in this table. The national picture continues to reflect a general increase in illicit narcotics users but seems to be levelling off somewhat from the most active years (1969 through 1973). The most notable exception is the category of females aged 15 to 19, which shows a 34 per cent decrease between 1973 and 1975.

    The national picture once again is not reflected in all the regions. While the rest of the country continues to show increases in all categories of illicit drug users - with the exception of the "age not known" category - the British Columbia figures show declines in some categories since 1973. Of particular note are both male and female groups aged 15 to 19 with decreases of 52 and 50 per cent respectively since 1973.

    Since 1971 the rate of users in the population has been higher for males than females in all age categories. Prior to 1971, the rates tended to be highest in the 25 to 29 or the 30 to 39 year age groups. By 1973 the highest rates in all areas appear in the 20 to 24 year groups. This trend is reversed for males in 1975 both nationally and in British Columbia, where the highest rates were once again in the 25 to 29 year age groups. With these two exceptions, the highest rates of illicit narcotics users were in the 20 to 24 year age groups.

    TABLE 2

    Illicit narcotic drug users in Canada known to the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs in selected years (1956-75) by sex, age-group and location

       

    1956

    1966

    1969

    1971

    1973

    1974

    1975

    CANADA
                   
    Males
                   
    15-19
    Number
    22 6 33 254 438 465 544
     
    Rate
    4 1 3 24 38 40 46
    20-24
    Number
    139 141 207 1039 2517 2946 3198
     
    Rate
    25 19 23 110 258 288 299
    25-29
    Number
    275 342 371 671 1474 2148 2924
     
    Rate
    45 55 52 84 166 232 301
    30-39
    Number
    523 693 794 1009 1265 1532
    1835
     
    Rate
    45 54 61 77 93 108 125
    40 +
    Number
    700 768 901 983 991 1108 1171
     
    Rate
    27 25 28 29 28 31 32
    Not known
    Number
    294 216 296 664 885 931 928
     
    TOTAL
    1953 2166 2602 4620 7570 9130 10600
    Females
                   
    15-19
    Number
    16 9 23 147 271 238 180
     
    Rate
    3 1 2 14 25 21 16
    20-24
    Number
    98 161 157 373 897 1108 1222
     
    Rate
    17 22 18 39 92 110 116
    25-29
    Number
    141 236 296 349 511 612 757
     
    Rate
    24 38 41 45 58 66 78
    30-39
    Number
    194 304 340 463 492 573 608
     
    Rate
    17 24 27 37 37 42 43
    40 +
    Number
    164 195 212 237 194 225 243
     
    Rate
    7 6 6 7 5 6 6
    Not known
    Number
    112 111 133 236 315 308 317
     
    TOTAL
    725 1016 1161 1805 2680 3064 3327
    BRITISH COLUMBIA
                   
    Males
                   
    15-19
    Number
    17 3 18 121 241 180 115
     
    Rate
    39 4 19 118 216 155 96
    20-24
    Number
    126 112 153 598 1370 1454 1451
     
    Rate
    256 170 182 642 1365 1369 1323
    25-29
    Number
    207 255 285 477 915 1229 1560
     
    Rate
    394 441 389 583 959 1212 1466
    30-39
    Number
    359 455 545 695 863 1037 1175
     
    Rate
    349 371 406 514 578 648 702
    40 +
    Number
    358 479 551 645 663 722 759
     
    Rate
    133 146 156 171 168 179 183
    Not known
    Number
    128 144 201 487 584 598 596
     
    TOTAL
    1195 1448 1753 3023 4636 5220 5656

    TABLE 2

    (continued)

       

    1956

    1966

    1969

    1971

    1973

    1974

    1975

    BRITISH COLUMBIA (continued)
                   
    Females
                   
    15-19
    Number
    12 8 17 78 185 140 92
     
    Rate
    28 10 19 76 172 125 80
    20-24
    Number
    74 106 108 228 511 631 646
     
    Rate
    182 166 133 248 524 610 602
    25-29
    Number
    91 131 187 226 318 357 425
     
    Rate
    190 234 268 289 340 357 406
    30-39
    Number
    96 154 178 263 321 372 378
     
    Rate
    90 136 146 211 232 251 242
    40 +
    Number
    65 108 123 145 117 140 152
     
    Rate
    27 32 34 37 28 33 35
    Not known
    Number
    37 68 83 149 188 173 167
     
    TOTAL
    375 575 696 1 089 1 640 1 813 1 860
    OTHER PROVINCES
                   
    Males
                   
    15-19
    Number
    5 3 15 133 197 285 429
     
    Rate
    1
    a
    2 14 19 27 41
    20-24
    Number
    13 29 54 441 1 147 1 492 1 747
     
    Rate
    2 4 7 52 131 163 182
    25-29
    Number
    68 87 86 194 559 919 1 364
     
    Rate
    12 12 13 27 71 111 158
    30-39
    Number
    164 238 249 314 402 495 660
     
    Rate
    16 21 22 27 25 38 51
    40 +
    Number
    342 289 350 338 328 386 412
     
    Rate
    15 10 12 13 11 12 13
    Not known
    Number
    166 72 95 177 301 333 332
     
    TOTAL
    758 718 849 1 597 2 934 3 910 4 944
    Females
                   
    15-19
    Number
    4 1 6 69 86 98 88
     
    Rate
    1
    a
    1 7 9 10 9
    20-24
    Number
    24 55 49 145 386 477 576
     
    Rate
    5 8 6 17 44 53 61
    25-29
    Number
    50 105 109 123 193 255 332
     
    Rate
    9 19 17 18 25 31 38
    30-39
    Number
    98 150 162 200 171 201 230
     
    Rate
    9 13 14 18 15 17 18
    40 +
    Number
    99 87 89 92 77 85 91
     
    Rate
    6 3 3 3 2 2 3
    Not known
    Number
    75 43 50 87 127 135 150
     
    TOTAL
    350 441 465 716 1 040 1 251 1 467

    Source: Bureau of Dangerous Drugs Annual Reports.

    NOTE. Rates are based on age-specific populations; age unknown has been excluded. For all years the British Columbia figures include the drug use statistics of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

    a The rate is less than 0.5.

Reported incidence

The findings presented to this point pertain to the reported prevalence of illegal narcotics users over a twenty year period and therefore do not reflect current illegal activity or need for intervention. In this section, an attempt is made to deal with this limitation by presenting available historical data on persons who were first reported as narcotic users during a particular year. All these cases can be considered as "active" during the reported years in question.

Table 3 presents data on the number and rate of illicit narcotics users first reported to the B.D.D. in the years 1973 through 1975. Nationally, rates and numbers of male users are higher than female users in all age categories in all three years. Over-all, the number for males has remained stable over the three years, with variation by age category. That is, there were increases in numbers and rates in the categories 15-19 and 30-39, decreases in the 40-and-over age group, an increase followed by a decrease in numbers and rates in the 20-24 year group and an increase in numbers but relative stability in rates in the 25-29 year category. Among females there was an over-all decrease in numbers and rates which held for all age categories except 30-39 and 40 and over where the numbers and rates were relatively stable.

TABLE 3

Illicit narcotic drug users in Canada first reported to the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs in 1973, 1974 and 1975 by sex, age-group and location

 

Canada

British Columbia

Other provinces

   

1973

1974

1975

1973

1974

1975

1973

1974

1975

Male
                   
15-19
Number
234 278 335 139 78 58 95 200 277
 
Rate
21 24 28 122 50 49 9 19 26
20-24
Number
681 732 710 365 275 238 316 457 472
 
Rate
70 72 66 356 259 217 36 50 49
25-29
Number
336 367 368 197 172 148 139 195 220
 
Rate
38 40 38 201 170 139 18 24 25
30-39
Number
127 124 147 78 67 64 49 57 83
 
Rate
9 9 10 51 40 38 4 4 6
40 +
Number
60 34 28 43 16 11 17 18 17
 
Rate
2 1 1 11 4 3 1 1 1
Age unknown.
Number
236 134 82 131 68 58 105 66 24
 
TOTAL
1674 1669 1670 953 676 577 721 993 1093
Female
                   
15-19
Number
137 112 75 85 54 29 52 58 46
 
Rate
13 10 7 77 48 25 5 6 5
20-24
Number
247 210 171 157 103 63 90 107 108
 
Rate
25 21 16 157 100 59 10 12 11
25-29
Number
72 61 58 43 29 18 29 32 40
 
Rate
8 7 6 45 29 17 4 4 5
30-39
Number
30 25 35 19 13 13 11 12 22
 
Rate
2 2 2 13 9 8 1 1 2
40 +
Number
3 6 6 1 3 3 2 3 3
 
Rate
a
a
a
a
1 1
a
a
a
Age unknown.
Number
103 34 31 59 13 13 44 21 18
 
TOTAL
592 448 376 364 215 139 228 233 237

Source: Bureau of Dangerous Drugs Annual Reports.

NOTE. Rates are per 100,000 based on age-specific populations. For all years, the British Columbia figures include the drug use statistics of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

a The rate is less than 0.5.

In both British Columbia and the other provinces, the national trend for both number and rates of newly reported users to be higher for males than females continued throughout the three years for all age categories. With the exception of females 40 years old and over, numbers of such users and rates in British Columbia show marked decreases between 1973 and 1975. In contrast, in the other provinces, numbers and rates for both sexes tended to increase over the time period, especially among 15-19-year-old males.

Summary and conclusion

This paper presented data on reported narcotic users in Canada from 1956 to 1975 based on the narcotic users index maintained by the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs and reported in their annual reports. The major findings were as follows:

  1. There was a substantial increase in the number and rate of reported illicit narcotics users in Canada (table 1).

  2. The greatest increases took place between 1969 and 1973 (table 1).

  3. Decreases in the number of licit and professional users, which took place between 1956 and 1973, have been reversed by slight increases during the period 1973 to 1975 (table 1).

  4. There continues to be a concentration of known illicit narcotics users in British Columbia. There are, however, indications that this trend is slowing down.

  5. There were generally more reported male users than female users in all age groups, a trend that increased over the total time period (table 2).

  6. Increases in the numbers and rates of reported users within the 20-24 year age groups have continued to characterize the national picture. These increases, however, were most dramatic between 1969 and 1973 (table 2).

  7. Between 1973 and 1975 the total number of male illicit narcotics users first reported to the B.D.D. remained stable, with variation by age category. Among females, there was a decline in numbers and rates for all age groups under 30 (table 3).

  8. Rates and numbers of first reported users decreased in British Columbia and increased outside of British Columbia (table 3).

Although the data presented in this paper are derived from one source, the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs narcotic users index, other sources appear to support the conclusions reached. Specifically, a recent analysis of all available indicators of heroin use in British Columbia led to the conclusion that "almost all of the indicators showed increases until 1972 or 1973, followed by consistent, steady declines" (Thomas, 1977). This suggests that the trends described in this paper are meaningful and require interpretation. However, providing definitive explanations is a difficult task because of the complex nature of the situation and the diverse trends.

Nevertheless, one possibility is that the findings of this study reflect changes in the pattern of enforcement of drug laws in Canada in the past few years. Indeed, there is some evidence that this has in fact been the case, in British Columbia at least (Stoddart, 1977). Specifically, a recent study of the "narcotics scene" in Vancouver based on in-depth interviews with informed observers suggested that the style of local narcotics enforcement has recently undergone a dramatic revision. Not only has the size and quality of the local enforcement unit increased but, in contract to an earlier period, enforcement was "now said to be more aggressive, more attentive to technical offences, and carried out by personnel with a greater commitment to the task". This may have resulted in a migration of narcotics users from Vancouver, accounting for the apparent increases in other provinces and the decreases in British Columbia.

Another possibility is that the findings, or at least some of them, reflect the selective nature of enforcement. For instance, the recent Vancouver study suggested that the probability of arrest was heterogeneously distributed, distorted by responsivensss of police to extra-legal factors (Stoddart, 1977). Specifically, informants suggested that "women of 'conventional' appearance and those whose demeanour had not offended police sensibilities enjoyed a lower probability of selection ...". This may, in part, explain the lower numbers and rates among women.

A third possibility is that there have been actual changes in the patterns of narcotic use in Canada. Indeed, the Vancouver study suggested that there have been massive changes in the heroin-using community in the past few years (Stoddart, 1977). Among other things, it was suggested that many community members were increasingly apathetic to their own and others' fate and failed to practise time-honoured strategies to minimize risk of detection, apprehension and arrest. This study, as well as another recent Vancouver study (Sanderson, 1977), also suggested that the typical career pattern of heroin users had changed. In earlier years, the pattern involved crime first, followed by heroin dependence. In recent years however, new patterns have emerged. Many of the current users started using heroin as part of experimentation with many drugs, the typical pattern becoming one of multi-drug abuse. It was also reported that many of the new users have never experienced high quality heroin and therefore most reported physical addiction among this group was largely illusory. These changes in the "heroin scene" may in turn be reflected in the trends described in this paper.

These are, of course, only three possible explanations for trends noted here. It is obvious that continued monitoring of narcotics use in Canada is required along with in-depth, geographically-specific studies. A plan for such research has in fact been developed for British Columbia. It is our hope that this plan, or a modification of it, will be implemented, and that such research will be carried out in Canada and other countries.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to express their gratitude to Reid McKim and Eugene Wilson of the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs as well as to Lise Latulippe, Eleanor Thomas, and Bruce MacLean of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs Directorate.

Bibliography

Bureau of Dangerous Drugs. Annual Reports, Department of Health and Welfare, Canada, Ottawa (1973, 1974, 1975, 1976).

Rootman, I. and A. Richman. Trends in Reported Narcotic Use in Canada: 1956-1973. Bulletin on Narcotics, XXVII: 4, 27-40, Oct.-Dec. 1975.

Sanderson, M. Perceptions of the Heroin Scene in British Columbia, N.M.U.D., Health and Welfare Canada, Ottawa, September 1977.

Stoddart, K. Official Statistics and Human Activities: The Enforcement and Enforceability of Narcotics Violations in Vancouver, N.M.U.D., Health and Welfare Canada, August 1977.

Thomas, E.M. The epidemiology of narcotic-related problems in Canada: Use of the B.D.D. narcotic users file . In Proceedings, Epidemiology of Drug-Related Problems in Canada: A Pilot Workshop, N.M.U.D., Health and Welfare Canada, Ottawa, March 1975.

Thomas, E.M. Indicators of Heroin Use in British Columbia, N.M.U.D., Health and Welfare Canada, Ottawa, September 1977.