Thanks a lot for allowing me to present the point of view of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the largest hospital for psychiatric illnesses.
I would like to start with a definition of “addiction” since we were asked to talk about addiction. Usually this term comprises substance use disorders, but also more recently it has been expanded to gambling and gaming disorders. For example, the DSM-5 and the current proceedings of the ICD-11 will also include something to that degree.
If you look into those addictions, and we take the full spectrum of addictions, we have to say that alcohol use disorders are the most prevalent of the addictions. There is a question mark here with tobacco use disorders, because they're usually not assessed in general population surveys like the CCHS. If you go into how many people are actually concerned with addictions, alcohol again is also the highest. About 1 in 20 men in Canada—and that's of all age groups—would have alcohol use disorders, and it's 1.7% for females.
The second most important addiction would be cannabis use disorders, and all other drug addictions would be about half of cannabis, at about 0.7%. Again, the usual prevalence is higher for men compared to women by a factor of 2:1 for most of those addictions.
In terms of harm, we do have a lot of disorders resulting from the legal substances that are associated with far more [Inaudible—Editor] in terms of mortality and morbidity, but also disability, than the illegal substances, and all of those addictions have a pattern of high comorbidity with other mental disorders. This means we usually have comorbidities with mood disorders. About one in five people with addictions would also have a concurrent mood disorder, and if you go into generalized anxiety disorders, it's about one in ten. Mood disorders, of course, would be what we would normally call depression, and they include a whole number of psychiatrically defined depressions.
Now to your questions with regard to the mental health strategy and how addictions are treated, addictions overall are covered by the mental health strategy, and there are a lot of very important things to be said about them. But if you look into the practice and if you look into the national policies and the strategic approaches, we see that a lot has been regulated by the national anti-drug strategy of the Government of Canada, and that leads to a conflict of objectives and a conflict of different overarching approaches.
When we look at the national anti-drug strategy we welcome the recent addition of non-medical use of prescription opioids and non-medical use of other drugs as a good step. Part of that, as you heard in the first submission, of course is a result of addictions having been caused in part by the medical system.
The two most costly substances from both a health and economic standpoint, however, are tobacco and alcohol, and these remain completely outside the strategy. I would just mention again that gambling and gaming, although lesser in scope and money, are also outside of and not covered by the national anti-drug strategy.
Overall we would like stress that all addictions and substance use disorders should be a health issue, and substance use should be dealt with by a public health approach. That means we should have a four-pillar approach for illicit drugs, prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and enforcement. The same is true for legal drugs.
We also have to state that the current approach to illegal drugs in Canada is overly enforcement focused. That means that if we look into the balance between a four-pillar approach and the current Canadian approach, we have an emphasis on enforcement, both in terms of money spent and the overall efforts of society. We would like to add to this a harm reduction approach, which is currently missing altogether. The more Canada can shift its overall approach into the public health sphere, the better our chances are for reducing the overall harm.
For the first point, I would like to summarize that addictions in Canada should be addressed through a public health approach, more or less in the way we have seen it in the mental health strategy. If we go into this public health approach, we would have to change some of the things in the national anti-drug strategy, but it would be rewarded by better strategies for tackling addictions and reducing the harm related to addictions.
For the second part of my submission, I would like to look at the stigmatization issue. You've asked specifically about stigmatization for addictions, and unfortunately addictions are very stigmatized in our society. We are not alone in the world. Addiction issues are the most stigmatized mental disorders in all high-income countries, in North America, Europe, and Japan.
From surveys, we know that while the overall stigma associated with mental health has been reduced over the past decades, for addictions this is unfortunately not the case. People with addictions are seen as unpredictable and dangerous. The overall causal attributions that are made see them as not being morally intact and as responsible for their own addictions. This, of course, makes a problem not only for the people afflicted with addictions, but also for the health care system in total because it is leading to the lowest treatment rates of all mental disorders.
While the treatment rates of mental disorders are still below the treatment rates of somatic disorders, among the mental disorders, addictions stand out. For example, in people with alcohol use disorders, only one out of ten in Ontario would get adequate treatment, and would be treated.
Contributing to that is our tendency to see the world in black and white, usually as dichotomous people with having or not having a disease, and not as a continuum. The problem of this dichotomous approach, of not seeing addictions as heavy use over time, as one end of a continuum—which we all share—is leading to these people being more stigmatized and more outside of our society. As a result, they do not seek treatment because they do not want to open themselves up to admitting that they're addicted. That leads to problems in the whole health care system, both in primary health care and in specialist health care.
Stigma interferes with a seamless continuum of treatment, and this is part of what is currently plaguing addictions.
I will remain here. I have 10 minutes, and I have used the 10 minutes, and I would like to just summarize.
All addictions should be seen as a public health problem and should be dealt with from a public health perspective. Stigmatization is one of the major barriers not only for mental health in general but also for addiction specifically.
Thanks a lot.