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Health Reports: Prescription medication use among Canadian children and youth, 2012 to 2017

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Released: 2021-03-17

Nearly one-quarter of children and youth aged 3 to 19—approximately 1.5 million—used at least one prescription medication in the past month and 9% used two or more.

A new article released today in Health Reports describes prescription medication use, an important component of Canada's health care system, among Canadian children and youth.

Females more likely than males to use prescription medication

Overall, prescription medication use was more common among females (26%) than males (20%), especially for youth aged 12 to 19, among whom 39% of females and 25% of males reported using medication in the past month. Some of this difference was driven by the fact that 18% of females aged 12 to 19 used hormonal contraceptives.

Mood disorders, attention deficit disorder, asthma and learning disabilities are important factors in use and types of medications

Prescription medication use was more common among those who reported lower levels of general and mental health, as well as among those with a mood disorder (71%), attention deficit disorder (60%), asthma (51%), or a learning disability (43%).

Prescription medications to treat obstructive airway diseases, including asthma, were used by 4% of children and youth and reported for all age groups: those aged 3 to 5, aged 6 to 11, and aged 12 to 19. Medications for the nervous system, including antidepressants, medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, antipsychotics and analgesics, were reported for those aged 6 to 19 years. Antibacterials for systemic use were used in all age groups as were dermatologicals such as corticosteroids (all ages) and anti-acne preparations (12- to 19-year-olds).

Prescription medications are sometimes misused

Medications are not always used as prescribed or even by the intended person. Among youth aged 14 or older, 4% had misused prescription medications for non-medicinal purposes, for the experience, for the feeling caused by the medication or to get high.

  Note to readers

The Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) is an ongoing cross-sectional survey conducted by Statistics Canada that collects directly measured and self-reported health information from a nationally representative sample of the Canadian household-dwelling population aged 3 to 79. The survey collects data using mobile examination centres that travel to multiple sites across the country.

This analysis used prescription medication data from three separate cross-sectional cycles of the CHMS: cycle 3 (2012 to 2013), cycle 4 (2014 to 2015) and cycle 5 (2016 to 2017). The dataset included children and youth aged 3 to 19.

CHMS data were used in a previous study to examine medication use among Canadians. This study is entitled "Prescription medication use by Canadians aged 6 to 79," and it is available in Health Reports, Vol. 25, no. 6, June 2014 (Catalogue number82-003-X).


The article "Prescription medication use among Canadian children and youth, 2012 to 2017" is now available in the March 2021 online issue of Health Reports, Vol. 32, no. 3 (Catalogue number82-003-X).

This issue of Health Reports also contains the article "Health care access and use among male and female Canadian Armed Forces veterans."

Contact information

To enquire about "Prescription medication use among Canadian children and youth, 2012 to 2017" contact Jennifer Servais (, Centre for Population Health Data.

To enquire about "Health care access and use among male and female Canadian Armed Forces veterans" contact media relations at Veterans Affairs Canada (613-992-7468;

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

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