THE National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), which has been on a cross-country drive to stoke awareness about problematic drug use, says it will be looking into reports by some officials about “necklaces” being worn by some students containing a substance which they claim “keeps them calm”.
The issue was one of several emerging during meetings held with school officials since November (Drug Awareness Month) when the NCDA embarked on a series of school tours themed ‘Drug-free Lifestyle Trending’ to educate and influence behaviour change amongst students.
Asked whether the NCDA during its tour had uncovered any emerging trends or other substance use amongst students, research analyst at the NCDA Uki Atkinson said, “there is one thing that came out of an engagement we had with some deans of discipline who told us about these necklaces that students are wearing. One of the deans was saying a heavy ganja scent comes from it”.
She said while the NCDA could not say that this was an emerging trend or even how widespread, “it is a concern and it is something the council intends to check out early in the year”.
“We don’t know what it is, we have never seen it before but it seems as if it is very popular in certain parishes because the deans spoke of it and they said the students refuse to take off these necklaces and some of them told the deans that it keeps them calm,” Atkinson told the Jamaica Observer.
“It seems to be some kind of tincture from cannabis oil, we are not quite sure but we hadn’t heard of it before in terms of them wearing it around their necks to school,” she said.
According to Atkinson, “that’s something we are going to be looking into some more in terms of what are these necklaces, who is supplying them, where they come from. We do not know, we are unable to say right now what the impact is. It wouldn’t be responsible to say children are getting high on them because we don’t know. We are going to do the proper due diligence,” she told the Observer.
In the meantime, the NCDA research analyst voiced concern over the fact that students are increasingly exposed to new substances through unconventional means.
“There are so many new things in the midst that they are exposed to, not just because of friends and new media but social media. They are exposed to things in other countries and the ease of access, you can order anything online and basically have it delivered to your house like how people deliver pizza to your house,” she pointed out.
Atkinson, who described as a ‘red flag’ the seeming increase in the use of substances by students over the past year, said the NCDA will be relying heavily on a well laid out road map with the Ministry of Education on how to address the issue.
“We have started already in November and December with sensitisation sessions. We met with over 130 deans of discipline from schools across the islands in addition to small group engagements with deans and guidance counsellors to be able to deepen their understanding on substance use, its effects, the way it manifests among students and how to deal with it,” she stated.
“And so we have a plan that is laid out, what we are going to be doing is during the period January to March next year is 10 overall sessions and trainings across the seven education regions to include mixed school personnel, where we are going to sensitise them on the whole issue of drug use, training them on how to screen and provide brief interventions as well as looking at the MOE’s guidelines on substance use in schools and getting their input to revise those guidelines which are outdated,” she told the Observer.
She said through three major upcoming studies all slated for 2023 — The National Drug Use Survey, the Global School Health Study for St Catherine students and the Global Youth Tobacco Survey — the NCDA will be given a ‘bird’s eye view on the situation’.
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 and research, and forms part of the rehabilitation team within the penal system.
According to the council, alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are reported to be the most abused drugs by young people in Jamaica. In fact, alcohol tops the list with 45 per cent of youngsters, especially boys, misusing it. It says over 80 per cent of adolescents who use alcohol report that they started before age 14.