The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) has developed a programme specifically designed to educate children on the effects of substance or drug abuse.
The Resistance Education Against Drugs (READ) is one of several programmes being rolled out by the Council, as it intensifies its effort to keep members of the public informed on drug abuse and its impact.
READ is based on behavioural change theories that have proven effective in drug use prevention in countries, such as Canada, Australia and the United States.
Director of Information and Research at the NCDA, Ellen Grizzle says through READ, the NCDA aims to strengthen the protective factor, so that young people are guided against the temptation to initiate drug use.
She notes that the early age of initiation of drug use in Jamaica is lowering, and points out that the early use of drugs is associated with drug abuse in later years. “Drug use among minors really poses a direct threat to our country in terms of achievement of major goals relating to educational attainment, violence and health care,” Mrs. Grizzle says.
The Director explains that the READ programme is designed to reach the most vulnerable young people, starting from age five to seven, adding that so far, the programme has worked with young people in the inner city communities of Kingston
“We bring the young people out of their communities and take them on an excursion to our office, where we deliver the programme. We bring the children in and they go to an orientation session for two to three hours with their teachers. Then we take them through the activity book that focuses on some of the substance of abuse, what is a medicine and what is a poison,” Mrs. Grizzle tells JIS News.
Participants are also taught skills in protecting themselves from actually getting involved in drugs.
“They role play that; also they know what the drugs are and they are able to tell you some of the substances during the activities with them. Seven year-old kids are really smart and they are able to recognise the different forms of alcohol, cigarette, and we tell them about the dangers of this,” the Director says.
She adds that sessions are interactive, so there is ample scope for feedback, and participants are encouraged to share the new information with friends at school.
Meanwhile, Executive Director of the NCDA, Michael Tucker says the education programme is necessary, as research has shown that teenagers and children as young as 10 years old are experimenting with alcohol, cigarettes and ganja.
Noting that psychology experts say the ages 0 to 8 are the years when a child is most impressionable and trainable, Mr. Tucker says the decision was taken to start “hitting the message home early.”
“The READ programme focuses on the 5 to 7 age cohort to give them coping mechanisms to understand the negatives of drug abuse, and work with them through prep school, high school and college,” Mr. Tucker says.
In the meantime, Mrs. Grizzle says participants in the programme have been responding well to the material used for instruction. The children have also been useful in carrying the message of avoidance of substance abuse to their parents and guardians at home.
“We’ve seen their creativity expressed, because one of the things we ask them to do is write poems, and we have seen some real good poetry that have emerged from these sessions, which we are now using in some of our drug abuse programmes. We also have children do memory evaluation to see how much they have retained from what we have taught them. The children score very well on those evaluations. Parents report to me that the children have asked them to stop using drugs, as in the sessions the children actually tell us that some of their parents actually use drugs,” Mrs. Grizzle says.
The Director tells JIS News that for the young people participating in the programme, there have been signs of incremental shift in knowledge and behaviour, noting that the aim is to track the behavioural pattern of the participants as they grow older, with the hope that they do not start using drugs as teenagers or adults.
“Sometimes in behavioural change, you see a short term promising result, but the thing that you really want is to inoculate these children, so that they will not start using drugs when they become teenagers. If we in Jamaica can keep our children from using or abusing drugs up until age 18 or 19, the research shows that they are most unlikely to use it, so we will be able to reduce the problem of drug abuse in the country,” Mrs. Grizzle says.
She is also encouraging parents to support their children when they get involved in programmes, such as READ.
“Parents need to encourage the children to be a part of these kinds of programmes that are really set up to support the children and to help them to live a more healthy and productive lifestyle. It is in our interest that the children are safe and protected, and it is in our interest that the children are protected from those who will seek to offer drugs to them. Therefore, I want to make a special plea to parents to support us in this new initiative we are trying in this five to seven age cohort,” Mrs. Grizzle says.
The NCDA was established in 1983 to educate the general public about the dangers of drug abuse and to prevent the indiscriminate use of drugs. In 1984 the Drug Abuse Secretariat was established to assist the Council in carrying out the necessary administrative tasks. The NCDA will continue to implement strategies as it carries out its mission of effectively reducing the abuse of illicit drugs, the supply and demand of same and promoting healthy lifestyles.
BY: LATONYA LINTON