THE National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) says with ”new psychoactive substances becoming a real and serious threat” globally it will remain bullish in pushing for the development of an early warning system (EWS) on drugs here.
“Early warning systems are being encouraged internationally because new psychoactive substances are becoming a real and serious threat across the world — and this is no different for us here in Jamaica,” research analyst at the NCDA Uki Atkinson told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
Atkinson said the need for such a system was brought home forcefully during a recent regional workshop conducted in Trinidad and Tobago which revealed that “there is an intensification of trafficking of substances in our region”.
“So this is why you see things like the Molly [slang for MDMA or Ecstasy, synthetic drug known primarily for its hallucinogenic and stimulant effects] and so on cropping up,” Atkinson told the Observer.
“There is a considerable increase in countries reporting new psychoactive substances in South America and in the Caribbean. Trinidad, for example, has found that Molly and Ecstasy are now the substances their forensic labs are flagging in terms of their seizures at Customs. They had 6,000 pills last February; it is something that is expanding on significant levels,” Atkinson pointed out.
According to the research analyst the EWS will help keep officials a step ahead and proactive.
“I am saying that to say the early warning system is something that is necessary because it is a system, a mechanism, that aims to catch these things as they are occurring. So, you don’t wait until you are doing a national survey to be able to know that there is MDMA in the population. What an early warning system does is, it flags things more quickly as they are occurring,” she explained.
Atkinson said information about seizures at the various ports or points of entry, as well as from drug tests, would be fed into such a system and would alert investigators about new substances that might be in circulation.
“So, if there is a seizure at customs or if somebody goes to a treatment centre and they test them and they are using something we didn’t know we have here, that is something that feeds into an early warning system,” she pointed out.
Atkinson said the players and actors in that mechanism would include individuals who man the Customs as well as the forensics, treatment centres, law enforcement, narcotics and toxicology lab in the country.
“It’s a mechanism that we are advocating needs to be developed and sustained and officially supported by our leaders,” Atkinson declared.
Pointing out that psychoactive substances are developed almost daily and are not controlled by international conventions, Atkinson said the need “for forensics and testing to determine what it is that is in these substances” has heightened.
“If it is someone is coming through the airport with something and saying it is vitamins, we have to test it and screen it and know. We do have the capabilities. There are previous initiatives which were undertaken, we have the TrueNorth device which allows first-level screening, but you really need more advance-level testing — which is through forensics,” Atkinson said.
The NCDA in October 2022 said the Narcotics Division of the Jamaica Constabulary reported a “significant increase in seizures of Molly pills” in the months prior.
In 2019 the Ministry of National Security announced that it would be collaborating with the NCDA and other local stakeholders to establish an early warning system for drugs.