Pubdate: Sun, 29 Mar 2009
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2009 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Petre Williams


The current harsh economic climate could drive more people to drink,
smoke or do hard drugs, with dire consequences.

In sounding this recent warning, the National Council on Drug Abuse
(NCDA) urged both public and private sector interests to partner with
it to help stymie any increase in drug use - legal or illegal.

"In an environment where there is a lot of uncertainty (and) a lot of
stress, where there is the threat of job loss and economic hardship
and problems making ends meet, some people will choose to turn to
legal and illegal drugs to escape from the reality of the harsh
climate that they face," Michael Tucker, executive director of the
NCDA, told the Sunday Observer.

"People use drugs to cope with challenges that face them in life where
they don't really have coping skills or family support to help them
through difficulties. When people face economic challenges, they may
often use alcohol. Some of them may get into gambling with the hope of
hitting the jackpot. Another thing that people use to deal with stress
is smoking tobacco."

It is against this background that he has urged the involvement of the
various sectors of society to support the work of the NCDA.

"The challenge we have now is the challenge with resources - human and
financial. We need significant assistance where our public education
and resources for public education are concerned," he said. "Also, our
ability to put PSAs (public service announcements) out there to inform
the public about the reality of drug abuse and all the negative
consequences (is limited)."

Among those consequences, he said, are:

. child and spousal abuse;

. irresponsible sexual behaviour leading to people getting HIV/AIDS
and other STIs; and

. crime and violence.

"The messages are there and the material is there, but the cost of
doing it is exorbitant and the resources aren't there," Tucker continued.

"There has to be a partnership between an agency like ours and key
public sector agencies that look (for example) on laws surrounding the
sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors, testing people for driving
under the influence of drugs, and through the health system trying to
identify people using drugs and therefore asking the right questions
when people go to have a regular check-up."

Psychiatrist Dr Wendel Abel, noting, too, the possibility of an
increase in substance abuse, said partnerships among agencies and the
various stakeholders were especially important at this time.

"I think it is important, especially with ganja. We are particularly
concerned about the use of cannabis in schools. It has created a lot
of dysfunctional behaviour and it is something we need to address as a
society," he said.

Like Tucker, Abel noted that public education about substance abuse
and the implications was also critical, as people come under
increasing stress.

"People are losing their jobs, losing homes. Prices are going up and
making it more difficult to survive. People who are more affected are
going to become depressed and. we do know that a lot of people deal
with anxiety and depression through substance use," the psychiatrist

"One strategy (to mitigate that) is to not generate too much fear and
panic and, two, let's talk about the issues and look at our potential
responses. I encourage people to begin to sit and talk about the
opportunities that may exist. Hard times don't last forever; let us
use our energies to refocus and look at the opportunities."

Tucker and Abel's sentiments come at a time when Jamaica is grappling
with substance abuse, particularly among the young. The 2006 National
School Survey, conducted in 70 schools across the island with a sample
of 4,536 students, attested to this.

Tucker said the data revealed that 70.4 per cent of youngsters aged 11
to 19 years old experimented with alcohol; 28.2 per cent with solvents
and inhalants; and 27.4 per cent with tobacco. It revealed further
that 24.1 per cent of youths in the same age group experimented with
ganja, while 14 per cent had at least tried beady (a tobacco
derivative imported from China and India).

Tucker noted, meanwhile, that there was a growing number of females
experimenting with drugs.

"The information showed us that the gender gap between male and female
use in school is narrowing. Historically, you would have, say, two to
three times as many males as females experimenting with things like
alcohol, ganja and cigarettes; that gap is narrowing," he said, citing
the 2006 study. "Certainly the ratio is less than two to one. In some
instances, if you look at a breakdown in the male population, say 70
per cent of males using, you would have between 50 and 55 per cent of

He has, in the interim, noted the NCDA's support for the Caricom
Secretariat's efforts to adopt regional quality and safety standards
for the treatment and care of substance abusers, at a time when the
region is expecting an increase in the number of people abusing substances.

"It (regional standards for treatment and care) should be the norm
rather than the exception. We have to ensure there are qualified
people treating addicts; that the programme has some kind of structure
and scientific or theoretical basis to ensure that it works; and that
the structure itself is such that the person is cared for and well in
that environment," he told the Sunday Observer.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin