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High use of alcohol and illicit drugs among school children worry authorities

By Anesta Henry
Startling statistics showing a high use of alcohol and illicit drugs, particularly among school children, continues to worry authorities.
But while these statistics date back to surveys done in 2006 and 2013 respectively, Manager of the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA), Betty Hunte, fears that findings which the Council will release at the end of the month, will reveal more concerning statistics to Barbadians.
Hunte was delivering remarks during a church service at the Constitution Road, St Michael, First Baptist Church to open Drug Awareness Month 2019, this morning, where she told Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson, that since the last survey was conducted seven years ago, it is now time for another one to be undertaken at secondary schools to see what trends are developing.
A Primary School Survey done in 2006, showed that one in every two Class 3 and Class 4 students indicated that they had used alcohol, although significantly small groups of children reported use of cigarettes, marijuana, crack or cocaine.
“Those stats are concerning,” Hunte said.
A comparison of the secondary school surveys in 2006 and 2013 showed that in 2006 more than seven of every 10 students reported that they had an alcoholic beverage at some time in their life; and a little more than one third were currently consuming alcoholic beverages.
In 2013, those figures did not change much, with the same seven out of 10 reporting that they used alcohol at some time and the same one third admitted that they were still using.
“In 2006, the mean age of the first use of alcohol was 10.9 years. And in 2013, a fifth of students admitted that they had used alcohol by the age of nine. So our problems have not developed overnight. In 2016, for alcohol, more females than males had indicated they had used alcohol. In speaking about alcohol, in 2006 our secondary school students indicated that the place where they most often got alcohol was at the home. By 2013 however, the most popular place to have alcohol was at social events and that was followed closely by at home. So let’s talk to marijuana. In 2013, 75 per cent of our secondary school students indicated they had used marijuana by the age of 14 years, and that their first use was around nine-years-old.
“By 2016, with regard to marijuana, that figure had almost doubled, 15 per cent of our students felt that marijuana was not harmful. In 2013, persons indicated that if they wanted marijuana, the easiest place to get it was on the block, and that changed seven years later, as our survey showed that the easiest place to get marijuana was at social events, and that was followed closely by in the home. In 2013, 23 per cent  indicated that marijuana was most often obtained from friends, but by 2016, over half of our school children now said they could obtain it from friends. Around the same time when we did our household survey, marijuana usage was greatest in adults between 20 and 39. At that time males were currently high users of marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes. But our statistics show that is slowly changing,” Hunte said as she attempted to give an insight into the statistics.
The manager also indicated that for the first time around 2013, a compilation of a report for all 34 member of states in the hemisphere, put together by the Organization of American (OAS) indicated that when they compared marijuana and tobacco use across the hemisphere, tobacco use was typically greater than marijuana use. In that OAS report, statistics showed that Barbados and the wider Caribbean had prevalence rates for marijuana which outstrip that of tobacco.
“And so, we will soon come at the end of this month to release some more findings from our Barbados Drug Information Network (BARDIN), and I fear, data from our treatment agencies, from our partners, I fear that the data is not going to be that much encouraging,” Hunte said.
Hunte suggested that Barbados has reached this juncture because often individuals do not care about families impacted by the issue of drug use until a community is stigmatized and a country is negatively branded.
The manager  indicated that at April 5, 2017, there were 35 females incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds. Of that number, 19 were incarcerated for possession and trafficking.
“Indeed women are particularly vulnerable when it comes to drug abuse, they are more often used as mules; facilitators or ‘go-betweens’ between the supplier and buyer; they are especially vulnerable to sexual crimes committed under the influence of drugs and the list goes on,” Hunte said.
Meanwhile, Minister Hinkson told the congregation that there are increasing concerns among Barbadians on the increased use of illegal substances by people, particularly young males and females. He said the statistics given by Hunte were alarming but true.
The Minister said that while attention must be paid to the link between substance abuse and criminal activities, his Government is committed to do all within its legal powers to reduce illegal substance abuse and consequential crime in Barbados, as the stability of the social and economic transformation is a top priority.
“We must join together to fight the scourge of illegal substance abuse and its consequence of violence and criminal activities,” Hinkson said. (AH)

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