Pubdate: Sat, 18 Apr 2015
Source: Packet & Times (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 Orillia Packet and Times
Author: Roberta Bell
Page: A1


Research indicates 50 to 70% of people with a mental illness also have
a drug issue

Of the patients admitted Orillia Soldiers ' Memorial Hospital's
mental-health unit as a threat to themselves last year, records
obtained under access-to-information laws reveal that 10% had used
cannabis within the three days before.

There have been medical studies linking long-term use of marijuana to
mental health.

Mark Rodway- Norman, the hospital's chief of psychiatry pointed to
Scandinavian studies that show people who use cannabis habitually have
three times the risk of acquiring a psychosis or a schizophreniform
disorder, but noted people who struggle with mental health issues are
more inclined toward substance abuse.

"Individuals are vulnerable to misuse - self-medicating, if you will
- - and individuals are also using at higher rates than the so-called
general population," Rodway-Norman said. "I'm trying to relieve my
distress induced by a mental health issue by using a substance. So if
I'm agitated, anxi ous and my thoughts won't slow down, this is all
secondary to a depression if smoke up, if I toke, if I use cannabis,
that'll calm down for three or four hours."

Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2014, there were 579 patients were
admitted to the mental health unit-either directly or through the
emergency department - as a threat to themselves.

Of them, 56 who exhibited "excessive behaviour (within the last 3
days)" had used cannabis, and between 22 and 37 who exhibited
"excessive behaviour (within the last 3 days)" had used either
inhalants, hallucinogens, cocaine or crack, stimulants or opiates.

Rodway- Norman says from the data it's unclear whether that "excessive
behaviour" refers to individuals who have come close to taking their
lives, or if they have just made what's known as a suicidal gesture -
"I took pills. I called my mum," he said - or suicidal thoughts. He
said it's also unclear whether individuals who reported drug use use
drugs regularly and frequently or occasionally.

Rodway-Norman said the data needs to interpreted somewhat

"This appears to be an enquiry that was asked of an individual..."
Rodway-Norman said. "Some individuals would be more than sophisticated
enough to know that often times, we'll do a drug screen."

A drug-screen turns up any cannabis use within the past three months,
Rodway-Norman said.

That may be one of the reasons patients could be forthcoming about
their use of it, even if they don't use it regularly, he said.

Of the 124 visits patients paid to the emergency department in
relation to self-harm, there were 67 instances of alcohol and/or drug

That statistic and the others out of the Orillia hospital with respect
to drug use and threat-to-self aren't surprising to Greg Howse,
director of clinical services with t he Canadian Mental Health
Association (CMHA) in Barrie.

"What happens when you're using substances is that you get a little
bit wild. And if you're feeling down and depressed, both substances
are depressants so they will enhance that depression," Howse said. "It
releases the inhibitions and it seems when you're using that it's more
okay to think about suicide."

Research indicates 50 to 70% of people with a mental illness also have
a drug issue, Howse said, while 30 to 50% of people who have a drug
issue also have a mental illness.

There's a clinical term: concurrent disorder.

In the past, mental-health issues and drug issues were treated
separately, Howse said.

"Research now shows us that you have to deal with both problems at the
same time. You can't separate them," Howse said.

Five years ago, CMHA Barrie and Simcoe Outreach Services (SOS), which
Howse ran for 25 years, amalgamated to bring the two services under
the same umbrella.

"Before, people were saying I can't deal with your mental illness
until you quit using drugs, but that's now how we work nowadays," Howse 

For example, taking away a drug from someone suffering from mental
illness can create more problems than it solves, Howse said.

"They've often been using the drug to deal with the symptoms of the
mental illness. When you take away the drug, you take away all their
coping mechanisms and they can actually get worse," he said.
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