The Opposition Shadow Minister of Health Dr Maria Agard wants to see more drug rehabilitation facilities for female and child abusers, and legislative changes to allow for a more therapy-oriented solution for drug offenders than jail.
The Christ Church West MP was contributing to debate in the House of Assembly on an amendment to the Health Services Act to bring under control of the relevant Government ministry, the standards of care and services offered by non-governmental and other private organizations, which are contracted by the State to provide drug rehabilitation services to Barbadians.
Though she supported the amendment, Dr Agard said more must be done to root out the social and economic cause of drug use, and consideration given to the disruption in family life when persons are jailed for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs.
“We need to ensure that women are also provided for,” she said, while acknowledging that Minister of Health John Boyce had earlier informed the House that Verdun House, which caters for men on rehabilitation, will complete a facility for 15 female clients in September.
“We also need to create facilities for very young abusers,” Dr Agard continued, noting that the Centre for Counselling Addiction Support Alternative (CASA) could accommodate child drug abusers, “but the challenges of under financing are very real challenges”.
Dr Agard, a dentist, said that drug dependency was a youth condition, affecting primarily males in the 20 to 34 age group.
Applauding “the good work that is being achieved by a number of facilities in Barbados”, she singled out the year-old Drug Treatment Court as a “fundamental plank [for] offenders of substance use and abuse [who] really deserve an opportunity for rehabilitation rather than criminalization and incarceration”.
“I would like to see Barbados move to a stage where our drug offenders are treated as though we have a vested interest in their rehabilitation at every level,” she said.
Expressing concern about the criminalization of persons caught with small quantities of drugs, in particular marijuana, Dr Agard said: “I believe that any law that predominantly targets any one socio-economic group, for harassment, arrests, prosecution and incarceration, is a bad law.”
The Opposition MP called for a change as Barbados approached its 50th year of Independence and spoke of the “silence in which we wink at certain individuals of particular socio-economic groups, all the while targeting specifically working class communities for incarceration. It is an untenable situation, one which needs to be addressed”.
She called for a national consultation on the use and abuse of these drugs.
“It is a discussion that will allow us to serve our communities better simply because if we look at the root cause of some of the ailments which today plague our society,” Dr Agard said.
She continued: “We are currently dealing with a state of unrest . . . . We see a youth movement that is very dissatisfied with their own progress, hopeless and feel that they have been the victims of our very harsh laws that tend not to be treated in a very equal way.
“We are dealing in our working class communities with broken families where, in some instances, all the male figures have been incarcerated as a result of noting more than possession of very small quantities of these substances.
“Fathers are missing from homes, some of them are primary or major finance or revenue earners for homes. Mothers are losing their sons to this particular situation.”