PORT OF SPAIN – An incident at a secondary school in central Trinidad where two students passed out after getting high on over the counter medicine has raised concern about a new trend in drug addictions taking root in the country.
Reports are that the two Form Four students took high doses of an easily available antihistamine, used for temporary relief of allergy symptoms, motion sickness and in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, to get high.
An eyewitness said: “The girl began sweating and crying. She was unable to keep her eyes open and complained of belly pains. The boy fell asleep on his desk and his classmates could not wake him. When they were able to wake him, he kept knocking out.”
The female student was treated at the school while the male student was taken to a nearby health facility for emergency treatment. Both have fully recovered.
High doses of the medicine used by the students, which contains the active ingredient diphenhydramine, can affect the central nervous system. It is used medically as a sleep aid and a cough suppressant. However, nonmedically, people may abuse the medicine for its significant sedative and euphoric effect.
“There are dealers who buy the medicine and bring it into the school and sell it and these students are putting their lives in danger for a chance to get high. I don’t know if they are aware of the dangers they are exposing themselves to and most of them that are using do it very quietly, so their parents are clueless,” a source told the T&T Guardian.
Minister in the ministry of education Dr Lovell Francis, although he was not aware of the specific incident, said there is concern about opiate use in schools.
“The ministry is aware that we have students who are involved in using drugs, prescription drugs and illegal drugs. We are aware about specific cases in schools although I haven’t heard about the incident at that school but I will talk to the chief education officer and investigate,” he said.
“We are very concerned about it. We will be investigating any reports of students taking drugs. We don’t want the idea out there that this is a safe practice and that is somehow better than taking illegal drugs. It is the same problem and it eventually escalates to them using illegal drugs. We want to deal with it on both fronts, which is to deal with students on a discipline issue but also to deal with the students in getting them the kind of support they need.”
“I am not one of those who just believes in penalising drug use. We need to get children help. If we get them help and we get them out of the situation, that is superior to them ending up in the legal system, so we want to deal with it on both fronts.
“We are aware it is existing and we will make an intervention in terms of dealing with it, its about getting them healthy,” he said.
Francis said the education ministry may to turn to the health ministry for assistance with the problem.
Psychologist Dr Merisha Seepersad said although she is aware of improper use of over the counter drugs by teens, she has not treated students who have abused them. However, several of her clients are teenagers who have overdosed on alcohol while at school.
She said peer pressure and low self esteem may be responsible for teens choosing to abuse drugs or alcohol.
“Most of them don’t know how to deal with the stresses of life and when they talk to loved ones, they say the loved ones don’t understand exactly what they are experiencing. So they get high, they sleep it off and get up the next day and then move on until that feeling comes around again.
“It is similar to alcohol addiction. You get this high, you take a drink to forget about your problems but when you wake up the next day, you have a headache and the problem is still there,” Seepersad said.
She said in the absence of strong family support, teens may form bonds with peers and identify with lifestyles they see on various types of media, putting them at risk.
“Parents need to be parents and accept the responsibility that comes with being a parent, especially in 2018. It is different to when I was growing up. Children are aware of things now because of technology. Everything is at their fingertips now. Children are now one step ahead, so parents need to make sure they regain a step ahead and be a listening ear for their children.” (T&T Guardian)