Child addicts

National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) says in the space of 22 months it has treated 99 clients under the age of 18 for drug use.

Data for the parish provided to the Jamaica
Observer by the NCDA show that, for the period October 2020 to September 2021, the entity saw 58 clients under 18 years while for the period October 2021 to September 2022 it saw 41 clients under 18 years. NCDA officials have said multiple students across the island reported substance use during the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Asked whether the NCDA considered the numbers significant, Janet Bowen, regional manager for the NCDA’s Central Region — which includes St Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, and St Elizabeth — said, “We would hope not to have anybody… if we have two it’s significant. The numbers for 2021, 2022 would indicate that there is a reduction in use, despite the heightened use of Molly and so on. The overall number of persons reporting use seems to have gone down because now we are dealing with 41 compared to 58 in the previous year.”

“I think a few of these [clients seen for 2022] would be repeats from the year before that would make it even more significant in that a lower number of persons are reporting use or coming in for treatment,” she said further.

Asked if the entity was seeing children in the parish who are already hooked on drugs Bowen said, “There are children we have met who started using alcohol at young ages — four, five, six, seven, eight years of age [and] who have been exposed to drug use, so by the time they are teenagers what do you think they are?”

Asked how such children become initiated and addicted, she said, “We have different types of parenting, different types of homes, and different levels of exposure, and the fact is that we are aware of children who would have been exposed to drug use at a very early age and so they would have developed drug use habits from early, and so it’s difficult for them. By the time they become teenagers it’s difficult to not say they are addicts because they have been using for so long.”

The NCDAs comments follow an alarm raised by a female cop about drug and alcohol use among students in St Elizabeth.

The policewoman earlier this month described the parish as a “ticking time bomb” while addressing students and parents during a drug awareness seminar. She listed Marijuana, Ecstasy/Molly, alcohol, crack (made from cocaine), Lean/purple drink made with a clear beverage and cold medicine flavoured with candy, gummy frass (gummy bears soaked in vodka), and vape as favourites of students in the locale.

“Every kid popping Molly now. Alcohol very common. Send them to school and even on the compound they are drunk, they not learning, the police have to be called in to remove students who are behaving boisterously. Very early in the morning, as early as 10:00 and 11:00 am, they are removing students for behaving boisterously; they are drunk,” the cop told the group. She noted that edibles, such as the gummy frass, contribute to the unseemly behaviour of some students.

Following that disclosure, Bowen said while the NCDA could not speak to the direct encounters between the police, students, and schools, it was not dismissing her account.

“As it relates to the situation that the police representative spoke off, we cannot definitely say we are familiar. We have interactions with the schools, and the children that are identified to be having issues are referred to us, but we cannot say we are familiar with children behaving boisterously and the police being called, and so on. We are not saying it doesn’t happen, we don’t know, and we were not informed of any such cases, and even if those same students are referred to us, that is not told to us,” Bowen told the Observer.

She said what the entity could confirm, however, was the fact that students in the parish have been using drugs.

“We know, though, that because the children are from our communities and drug use is rampant you will find students using, because a number of our clients are students, and it would mean they have used it at school or around school time — whether on premises or externally — so that is a real possibility,” Bowen said.

Children in the parish are referred to the agency by the Justice Ministry’s Child Diversion Programme, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency, and schools.

In the meantime, Bowen did not condemn the woman cop for putting the issue squarely on the table, saying “It is good when you are able to speak up about it, because what it does is it forces the powers that be to deal with it because there are times when we are out here, and we are trying, but persons are not really acting, because they are not hearing a public outcry. So, if they can ignore it, they will ignore it. So, if it can be spoken about, we don’t have a problem.”

She said the NCDA, in the meantime, continues its work in the parish.

“We have standard programmes that are conducted with schools, and we start at the basic school level. It doesn’t matter whether the school is having a problem or not. Outside of that, we do peer educators training throughout the year; as long as schools are willing to receive us, we go in.”

As for the rest of the region, she said this November, which is celebrated as Drug Awareness Month, the council will be hosting a town hall meeting in Santa Cruz and neighbouring Manchester to open the issue further.

Asked whether the NCDA was overly concerned about St Elizabeth, she said, “I would not say that St Elizabeth is worse than anywhere else. In my mind, what is happening in St Elizabeth is what is happening in Jamaica. In my mind, it’s just that somebody spoke about it because the problems identified are the general problems across the parishes.

“It is bad. I am not saying all of what is happening in St Elizabeth is happening everywhere either, but the fact is that children across the island are involved in drug use — that is the fact. What it will need at this point is for all hands to be on deck,” Bowen told the Observer.

The NCDA is responsible for formulating and developing plans and projects for the prevention of drug abuse, its abatement, and rehabilitation of drug abuse victims. It also conducts drug tests for individuals and organisations, drug counselling, research, and forms part of the rehabilitation team within the penal system.

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