Policymakers are lamenting what they consider to be a proliferation of drug use and abuse in Barbados especially among primary and secondary school students.
The picture was painted in Parliament on Tuesday as Government officials debated the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) Amendment Bill 2019, which saw the removal of the definition “Minister”.
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde called on residents to be more vigilant, as she suggested that children were being targeted to be drug mules even by their own parents in some cases.
“I know that our youth are exposed by a lot of vulnerabilities in the homes [and] communities and I want to challenge those parents and guardians and others who put drugs in their children’s bag and send them to school because that is a readymade market, to desist from doing it,” said Forde.
She did not say how widespread that practice was or if anyone was ever reported. However, the St Thomas Member of Parliament said: “We have men and women under trees, on the blocks, in houses, supplying a lot of children with drugs every day.”
“You know what, the children of middle-class people are some of the ones mostly targeted because they are the ones that get the $20 per day to spend,” she said, adding that it pained her to see some people in The City rummaging through the garbage and begging due to their “exposure” to drugs.
Though she did not present evidence, Forde also expressed concern that in the primary school setting “there are sweets that are laced with drugs that our children seem to be having access to”.
“They are given to the children or sold. Again, that is the incubator for the drug people to have them be caught up in the whole drug business or to be addicted. Therefore, those children, we lose them in the system. I want to encourage parents, guardians, teachers and others to limit the funds you give these children,” said Forde.
The former teacher also urged parents and guardians to be wary about sleepovers, adding that “as much as you may know them from church or from town or work, you don’t know the jungle you are putting your children in”.
She argued that there were teachers who had to deal with “drug babies” because their parents were addicts, and suggested that an institution be established to cater specifically for those children.
“I call them drug babies, babies whose mothers would have been using drugs and as a result the children are born with challenges. They look normal but they have learning defects, some of them,” she explained, suggesting that first-time offenders should not be sent to the prison but to that special facility.
In his contribution, Minister of Creative Economy, Culture and Sport John King said Barbados and the rest of the region should be seriously concerned about some medications that were being imported.
“Our doctors and other persons endorse these things, knowing full well that they have these types of warnings on them,” he said, adding that some prescribed medications warn of suicidal tendencies.
“This for me is something that needs to be looked at and I hope that the NCSA will be given the teeth to look into these particular types of drugs that come in because they are coming in legally, but they have the potential just as the ecstasy or any of the other recreational drugs you can think about, to destroy life,” he said.
Also pointing to unintentional drug use among athletes due to use of some medications, King said he believed the time had come for serious consideration to be given for stricter penalties for the trafficking of medicine.
Meanwhile, Minister of Youth and Community Empowerment Adrian Forde said in going around the island he learned from young people that it was easy to access some party drugs and other substances once they had “bitcoin because you can buy them on the internet”.
He insisted that there needed to be more education and conversation on drug use and the impact, as he repeatedly called for the NCSA to be called the National Council on Substance Addiction instead.
Insisting that drug use in Barbados was a serious problem, Forde said “we have a problem where the important things of society are being put on the wayside and drug use has become the new norm”.
Referring to some of the drugs as “new and improved”, Forde added: “We have to ensure that we wrestle it and put it behind bars for what it is worth because it is something that can destroy a small society like ours”.