Results of a recent study on substance abuse are enough to make anyone shudder.
Although worrying drug trends among our population, especially the youth, are nothing new, the red flags emerging from the 2015 Barbados Drug Information Network (BARDIN) Survey, conducted by the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA), glaringly remind us that this troubling scourge remains a serious threat.
According to the findings, our young people are long past their curious experimentation with one drug. They are now addicted to a combination of substances.
“Before, conversations about drug use pertained to one individual drug. We could say a person had an alcohol problem, a marijuana problem, a cocaine or a crack cocaine issue, but what we are seeing now is that people admitted for treatment have used more than one substance, mainly either a combination of marijuana and cocaine, or alcohol and cigarettes,” the NSCA’s Research and Information Officer Jonathan Yearwood painstakingly said.
Equally alarming is that children as young as nine years old are turning to marijuana and alcohol as their substances of choice.
The research also shows that four to five per cent of children toyed with alcohol before they left primary school, with the figure jumping to 22 per cent by the time they reached secondary school.
The situation is really no different for marijuana, with usage among secondary school students five times that at the primary secondary level.
If that wasn’t concerning enough, Senior Research Officer in the Criminal Justice and Planning Unit Kim Ramsay said a survey of the population at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds showed that both men and women used ecstasy, a drug not traditionally used in Barbados.
“Ecstasy is a very big concern for me because it’s a party drug. I was amazed at the number of young people who admitted to exploring with ecstasy and . . . the crimes they have committed,” she said.
We could quite easily go on and on lamenting every alarming finding, but neither space nor heart allows for such.
Whether we like it or not, we have a silent but potentially crippling situation on our hands with several tough questions left to be answered.
For instance, why are our youth increasingly slipping into a life of addiction? And what are we doing to arrest the worsening plague before we end up with an entire lost generation of junkies?
Based on the current level of drug abuse, Barbados needs a deliberate campaign to target and eradicate this problem.
Admittedly, no easy solutions exist for how to dramatically reduce the number of youth who misuse drugs. But we first need to determine where the ecstasy, heroin and cocaine are coming from.
The fact that our children and youth can easily get their hands on marijuana, alcohol and several other drugs means that the system is currently feeding the undesirable habit.
Whether these peddlers are from the upper, middle, or lower class, they must be made to feel the full brunt of the law and not be allowed to destroy our society’s future.
This will require that at both the group and individual levels, we remain engaged, vigilant and committed to stamping out the problem, which, wittingly or unwittingly, some among us are unfortunately contributing to by turning a blind eye to what is taking place right next door to us, or just a stone’s throw from us, just down the street.
We have a duty to report offenders to police and to stop the drug trade from taking root in our communities.
Enough also cannot be said about the responsibility of parents who must of necessity make it their business to stay abreast of who their children are keeping as friends, as well as the type of activities that they glory in engaging in and the places they generally frequent.
It is equally important to talk to children about the risks associated with illegal drug use, including possible incarceration and the negative side effects that are not always easy to guard against.
Government must also keep the issue on the front burner, enacting tough new laws and empowering law enforcers to deter criminals from perpetrating their harmful acts.
Agencies like the NCSA will also need to expand their anti-drug campaigns as new trends in drug use emerge, to ensure the lives of our youth do not simply go up in smoke.