With statistics showing that more teens are abusing drugs, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Jean Dixon, says that a wide ranging public education campaign, targeting the age group, must be undertaken to increase awareness on the ills of drug abuse.
“I foresee an anti-drug campaign that targets parents, teens and the society at large that is open and frank about the (harms) of drug usage,” she said in a statement delivered by Director, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Dr. Maureen Irons Morgan, at a Drug Awareness Month workshop today (November 4) at the Terra Nova hotel in St. Andrew.
Dr. Dixon informed that research showed that the number of youths experimenting with drugs is increasing at a significant rate and that they are starting at an even earlier stage in life.
Statistics from the Jamaica National School Survey (2006) showed that of the youth population ages 11 to 17, over 70 per cent have used alcohol, 27 per cent have used tobacco, 24 per cent have used marijuana, and 3.1 per cent have used cocaine or crack.
Executive Director, Drug Abuse Secretariat, Michael Tucker (left), is in discussion with Director, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Ministry of Health, Dr. Maureen Irons Morgan; Deputy Chairman of the National Council on Drug Abuse, Steve Ashley (2nd right); and Disease Prevention and Control Advisor, Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation, Dr. Jean Marie Rwangabwoba. Occasion was the Drug Awareness Month workshop at the Terra Nova hotel in St. Andrew on Thursday (Nov. 4).
“This is worrying, considering the devastating impact it can have on their performance at school, such as missing classes, becoming violent towards fellow peers and teachers and becoming a school dropout,” the Permanent Secretary lamented.
She said the implementation of a public education campaign is therefore critical as information can serve as a powerful tool for behaviour change. “In an age of technology that is being fully utilised by youths, especially the Internet, we must seize this opportunity to target teens and tailor prevention messages that will have a huge impact,” Dr. Dixon stated.
She noted also that ways must be found to “harness the intensive influence that people have on each other through social networks and social media, which is a relatively cheap and effective tool for promoting public health.”
She said that youth participation in the development of evidenced-based prevention programmes is a “very important strategy as they have thoughts, ideas and the creativity that can be used effectively to achieve the desired results.”
Even while focus is placed on teens, Dr. Dixon said drug abuse is a real concern for all Jamaica, as data indicates that approximately 187,000 persons have drug-related problems.
She said the health sector spends on average close to $2 billion on trauma-related injuries, which included injuries as a result of drug use, and gang-related violence that is associated with the drug trade.
Dr. Dixon said she strongly believes that through local, regional and international collaboration, the Ministry of Health will be able to bring drug abuse under effective control.
She called on private and public sector agencies to support the Ministry’s drug awareness efforts, “so that our work will not be in vain, but will be a beacon of hope to further our endeavours to achieve our targets.”
“While the government can implement a national strategy, we cannot deliver everything and so we need the input from other organisations to help drive the process,” she stated.
Drug Awareness Month is being observed in November under the theme: ‘Stop and Think.Drugs not the Link’. Thursday’s workshop was organised by the National Council on Drug Abuse in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization and focused on policy review, epidemiology and standards of care.