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The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) has intensified its initiatives aimed at preventing drug use initiation among Jamaican youth, through implementation of a Resistance Education Against Drugs (READ) programme.

The yearlong initiative will target 500 children, aged five to seven years, and is slated to be implemented in some 25 schools island-wide through grant funding of $5.2 million from the National Health Fund (NHF).

It is intended to boost the ongoing prevention programmes in schools and also supports the goals of the healthy physical and mental lifestyle initiatives of the Health Ministry.

Speaking at today’s (Nov. 12) launch of READ at the Medallion Hall Hotel in St. Andrew, Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, commended the NCDA on the initiative.

“Your READ programme is an excellent tool to empower school-aged children with the knowledge to recognise negative behaviours linked to drug use and therefore reduce their intention to use substances of abuse. Intention to use is a critical factor, which incorporates accessibility, knowledge of the users and opportunity for use,” he said.

He said the programme was particularly important given the fact that substance abuse is widely prevalent globally with an estimated 120 million users of hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and other synthetic drugs.

“We cannot afford to ignore (drug) abuse in Jamaica as the consequences are serious to the development and growth of the country and the well-being of our citizens,” he stated.

Executive Director of the NCDA, Michael Tucker, said the agency’s decision to embark on the project was influenced by research, which shows that there is significant experimentation with substances among school populations and at an earlier age.

“Research shows that over 80 per cent of youngsters have been drunk more than once before age 14. Eighty per cent of them have also started to use drugs before age 14. In Jamaica, and throughout the region, the average age of first use of both alcohol and tobacco is between 10 and 12; and for marijuana or ganja, it is between 10 and 14 (years old),” he informed.

He said it is important that a proactive approach, such as the READ Programme, be undertaken, to enforce “the values and norms in our young people before they actually start to use (substances)”.

The goal of the READ programme is to provide the participants with the knowledge to recognise negative behaviours linked to drug use and thus reduce their intention to use these substances.

The initiative specifically aims to build self-awareness, resistance and decision making skills; and provide age appropriate drug and health information.