A proposed “mental health ecosystem” to assist with the fight against substance abuse and addiction got the attention of at least one parliamentarian on Friday, as the Lower Chamber sought to lower penalties for some drug offenders.
Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs Marsha Caddle invoked the name of her late sister, a mental health professional, to make the case for young people from depressed communities to receive drug abuse therapy.
Caddle said it was important that the proposed mental health system formed part of the Social Justice Committee because it was evident that abuse and addiction were often caused by people struggling to cope with mental issues which have been trigged by other social and economic factors.
The committee launched in 2019 to address issues put forward by civic organisations, falls under the aegis of the Ministry of Labour and Social Partnership Relations.
During debate on the Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control) (Amendment) Bill, Caddle told her fellow parliamentarians of her sister Gail Caddle, a substance abuse therapist and psychologist, who spent many years working with young people in disadvantaged communities. That work made clear to her that people with substance abuse or addiction issues often have underlying circumstances and need additional intervention and attention.
She said: “In many cases, addiction does not exist in a vacuum. It exists alongside economic deprivation. It exists alongside all other kinds of mental health pathologies that I am not sure that we have built up the ecosystem to truly be able to address.
“It is an area that requires more resources, not just from the public finances. But it requires all of us, the medical fraternity, the third sector, the private sector to really truly develop a mental health ecosystem to be able to address a lot of these issues.”
Caddle said most of the people who pass through the system with addiction issues were men but women’s addiction has been hidden for a number of reasons.
“We also have to talk about mental health,” she said. “We have to not laugh at the manifestations of it.”
The economist praised her late sister and others involved in the substance abuse fight for work that continues to be of significant value to the island.
She also supported the strengthening of resources of the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA).
In addition to NCSA, she added, there were other stakeholders, including Verdun House and other private sector entities, that have had greater interaction with those the draft law is seeking to target. Caddle said because NCSA would have to make referrals, their capacity and resources ought to be increased.
“And I think we have to look more fully not just at the public sector provisions, or institutions for this,” Caddle said. “We are not going to be able to address this issue just as a Government. We are going to need to have strong partnerships with other institutions that are going to be able to contribute to making this happen.
“I have to say that one part of the Bill that is associated is this that I do commend, is the distinction between adult and juvenile offenders because I do think that one of the things that we realize is there is a difference between starting to consume marijuana when you are 11 or 12 and starting to consume marijuana when you are 35 or 40.
“There is a difference in terms of how you are able to develop and there is a difference in terms of how you are able to interact with people around you. I believe that the science suggests that there is a difference.”
Caddle also praised the fact that provisions were included in the bill to ensure that juveniles “understand” the consequences of consuming marijuana. (AH)