of the mentally ill residents in St Catherine are drug addicts, a number of whom are young school leavers who have become a menace to their families, frequently landing in trouble with the law to fund their drug habit, the St Catherine Health Department has stated.
According to Nurse Jacqueline Parchment, of the almost 4,000 people in the parish diagnosed with a mental illness, half of that number are drug users, most of whom are addicted to alcohol.
Parchment, who was on a panel at Jose Marti Technical High School in St Catherine on Friday, where the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) launched its school tour in recognition of Drug Awareness Month, said habits are being formed from their days in the classrooms.
“What we find is that you see your friends start drinking a beer and you continue and continue until you find that your focus is not on your schoolwork anymore,” she told guests at the launch.
She said eventually, because of sustained use, students develop mental illnesses which, in many instances, cannot be reversed.
“Some people, the damage can be reversed, but for some people the damage is already done, because the chemistry of their brain has been changed and they are permanently diagnosed as mentally ill,” she pointed out.
Parchment said while the health department has been seeing young school-aged children with mental conditions brought on by drug abuse in the child guidance clinics, the majority have been young graduates.
“What we see mostly is the people who have left school. So, when they leave school at 17, 18, 19 years old, we find that we see more of those coming to our adult clinics, and they are the ones who have found themselves in problems with the law, because to feed their habit sometimes they are deviants and so they engage in a lot of deviant behaviour,” Parchment said.
“We find they are not only in problems with the law, but they also have a lot of family dysfunction, because sometimes they have now disturbed the equilibrium of the family and so there are a lot of issues because of drug use,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Princess Bayliss-Ranger, of the constabulary’s St Catherine South Community Safety and Security Branch, said there has been “an increase” in visits by inebriated youngsters at police stations in the locale.
“We have found that we have an increase in these youngsters attending our stations. We may not be in the [health] profession but when they come in, their demeanour and their way of communicating, we easily detect that these are users. So when we do refer students and the doctors check them, we realise they are early users of drugs and alcohol,” Bayliss-Ranger said.
She said some students have openly admitted to the police that they are involved in alcohol and drug use.
“They are not afraid to tell you,” the cop said.
“At schools they would have been influenced by their peers to take ganja-infused cookies or cakes or alcohol-infused gummy bears. We are here to encourage you to stay drug-free. We have had to be going into our schools to conduct searches. From these searches we make these discoveries, and we really don’t want to be locking up teens like you,” she told students.
The Child Protection and Family Services Agency’s Devon Levy said that the entity has also been dealing with children who are abusing drugs.
“That puts a lot of strain on families. Here comes a mother who sends her son or daughter to school thinking they are gone to school, and they turn to some other site. There are some places that are near to school; I don’t know why it’s always like this but near school there is a place you can find that is an outlet for drugs, always, and somehow our kids find themselves there and get involved,” Levy said.
He advised that families should start looking for indicators that their children might be using drugs, some of which include them being “always tired, always wanting to sleep, always hungry”.
On Friday an impromptu survey conducted by NCDA Research Analyst Uki Atkinson asking students whether they had heard of vaping, molly, edibles, and alcohol-soaked gummies revealed that the majority had heard of the items.
However, when asked to indicate, by a show of hands, whether they knew anyone who vaped, used molly or edibles, significantly fewer hands showed.
In May 2022 the NCDA conducted a rapid assessment study which involved focus groups with 160 students and interviews with 20 guidance counsellors in 13 parishes. The study, which sought to find out the issues facing young people, uncovered that molly, vaping and edible were the drugs they thought were most popular.
Friday’s exercise involved students from Jose Marti Technical High School where some 2,000 pupils are registered, joined by students from several other schools across St Catherine and Clarendon.