“Poly-drug” use, involving the simultaneous consumption of a cocktail comprising primarily marijuana, cocaine and alcohol, is becoming the preferred choice of younger Barbadians who are seeking treatment for drug-related problems in increasing numbers.
Minister of Health John Boyce made this revelation today as he led off debate in the House of Assembly on an amendment to the Health Services Act, empowering Government to have regulatory control over non-profit and other private organizations offering treatment to drug addicts.
Boyce said “poly-drug” abuse was “of serious concern to the Ministry of Health” and “one of the most common reasons for admission to the Psychiatric Hospital drug treatment non-residential service”.
He said the use of marijuana, alcohol and cocaine individually, or with other combinations, fell in the lower categories of admissions.
“A total of 107 persons have sought treatment at the Centre for Counselling Addiction Support Alternative –– CASA, a non-residential walk-in centre serving essentially children and adolescents,” he told the House. “Most persons seeking help at CASA are below the age of 20, and in 2012 the drug of choice was marijuana, followed by alcohol and cocaine.”
Boyce went on to speak of another non-governmental treatment facility, Verdun House, to which for some 15 years now, clients have been referred after first being examined by the Psychiatric Hospital.
“Over the first four years of Verdun House’s existence, the majority of clients fell between the ages of 30 and 50 years with dependency on alcohol and crack cocaine being the main case of requiring the treatment,” he said.
“However, within the last five years, this trend in age has shifted significantly with the majority of clients now falling within the 18 to 35 age group. The main drugs of choice reported by these clients are marijuana and cocaine.”
According to the Minister of Health, in the last 15 years Verdun House has had 1,131 admissions, representing some 759 clients. The causes for admission were crack cocaine addiction, 720 persons; alcohol addiction, 161; and marijuana, 154.
Boyce said: “The Psychiatric Hospital had a total of 218 in its Drug Rehabilitation Unit in 2012. The trend in age was similar to that recorded at Verdun House with the majority of clients falling between the age of 21 and 45, again demonstrating the fact that this issue is becoming a younger generation issue to a larger extent every day”.
He explained that the island’s increasing drug problem had led to persons using private care and rehabilitation facilities by choice, or being referred there by state agencies.
“An important factor has entered into the provision of these services over the last ten years or so with the evolution of a number of non-governmental organizations which have largely entered into fee-for-service arrangements with the Government of Barbados . . . to see that this programme is properly rolled out,” Boyce noted.
It is in recognition of the growing outsourced drug rehabilitative care that Boyce brought to Parliament the Health Services Amendment Bill, which is aimed at establishing control over the standard of service offered by the NGOs.
“This change today brings the Substance Abuse Facility into the ambit of the responsibility of the Examination Unit of the Ministry of Health. The bill . . . gives the Ministry the legal mechanism to regulate the operation of substance dependency treatment providers in Barbados,” he explained.
Boyce said the amendment placed NGOs and other private rehabilitation services under the same supervisory regime as hospitals and geriatric facilities.
“With the provision of treatment services by non-state actors, it has become imperative for Government to establish benchmarks, standards and quality care parameters, and establish the regulatory framework to enable adequate oversight,” he said, adding:
“We want to be able to say to Barbadians with confidence that you can seek assistance with a programme being offered by a private sector organization, knowing full well that the regulatory conditions set by the Ministry, largely international in character and specificity, that these conditions are being met and one can go forward with confidence on the kind of treatment offered.”
With Government already buckling under the strain of overall health care costs, Boyce spoke of the financial challenges in meeting the care needs of drug abusers.
“Let us be aware that like so many other things nothing in this world is free,” he said, revealing that some $3.5 to $4 million had been spent at Verdun House so far.
“The treatment service arrangement in the private sector, which started around 2004-05, saw some $105 per day being allocated to the institution for the treatment of each Barbadian who went,” he said.
Added to this amount is $1.5 million paid to the St John facility’s half-way house since 2010.
Another facility, Teen Challenge, annually receives $760, 000.