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Executive Director of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), Mr. Michael Tucker, says the agency has been successful in heightening awareness of the dangers of substance abuse, through its intervention programmes, which target children as young as five years old.
“You have to start to give them the information and appropriate messages, about the negative consequences of substance abuse, and, therefore, enable them, even at that stage, to differentiate between drugs and medicine, what they should or should not do. ..what their parents should be doing around them.what is good and bad.what is healthy living and what isn’t.. to. ensure that they are aware,” he stated.
Speaking at a recent Think Tank held at the JIS’ Half-Way-Tree Road head office, Mr. Tucker pointed out that recent research into the incidence of substance abuse in Jamaica showed that the age cohort experimenting most with drugs ranged between 15 and 20 years.
“They are (the) most adventurous. They feel that, at that age, they are invincible, (and) nothing can harm them. They are very curious and, because they haven’t developed the various skills, like coping and resistance. they are (easily) influenced by peer pressure and the hype, often, that surrounds drug use. So that is the group that we have to focus on,” he stated.
Informing that the NCDA is working with some 200 youngsters in inner city schools, he said that the teachers are brought in to be part of the sessions because it has been found that the children will “tend to obey the teacher over the parent,” due to the awe and respect with which they regard them.
The guidance counsellors are also part of the meetings, while sessions are held with the parents, “so that the message that is being given is a universal. one. We (are) actually reinforcing with the parents, the examples that they need to set with the children. We are reinforcing with the children, too, that they need to remind their parents about the effects of, say, second-hand smoke on them, drinking alcohol and driving them in their cars. (So) it’s a two-way thing, the parents reinforcing the children’s behaviour and the children, often, reinforcing the parents’ behaviour. We have to ensure that there aren’t mixed messages,” Mr. Tucker explained.
He also pointed to community programmes, which have heightened individual awareness of the dangers of drugs such as cocaine and heroin and have kept the usage of these at a minimum.
“We have used culture and people’s non-acceptance of (the) foreign influence (of) cocaine and heroin and injecting that to our advantage in the education that we do. Where ganja is concerned, we have had struggles, especially since a lot of .artistes that the young people adore and look up to, will promote the use of (it),” Mr. Tucker said.
“But, still, we have been able to sensitise youngsters about smoking generally and, included in that message, the negative consequences of ganja. Alcohol is a significant challenge, because of the culture. But, more and more, the message is getting out there about the negative consequences of all drug use, both. legal and illegal,” the NCDA head added.
Even with the gains made, Mr. Tucker said that “a lot more needs to be done,” to address the substance abuse problem.
“Unfortunately, in our environment, some parents will use their children to peddle drugs for them. That happens in schools.it’s well known in the education system that some parents will give their children (ganja) ‘spliffs’ to carry to school to sell.
“Sometimes, too. the parents. give the children alcohol, saying it’s a part of the initiation into manhood (and) they may (also) encourage smoking because they think it’s good. They may give them ganja because they say it supposed to make them smarter.give them ganja tea.things like that. Because it is part of the myth(s) that exist in our culture, unfortunately,” he lamented.
He also pointed to the need for a “lot more resources” to be put into the work that we do. A lot more support should be given at the very top level. Lives are being lost. (and) destroyed. Families are being destroyed. a lot of productive people’s lives. At our level, certainly in Jamaica.(and) at the CARICOM level.all of us need to put in more and ensure that our region is a more healthy, more focused (one),” Mr. Tucker said