The National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) remains concerned about Barbadian children being exposed to drugs at an early age.
Deputy Manager Troy Wickham said with findings in the 2020 National Primary School Survey showing children as young as eight years old admitting to substance use, the NCSA has been stepping up its education campaign, although it is operating with limited resources.
“I can say the main drug is still alcohol, followed closely by what we call energy drinks. Four per cent, to be exact, admitted to using marijuana in their life. And the main source is at home with family and siblings.
“This is a concern for us at the National Council on Substance Abuse because, one, socialisation, the home is a place where persons spend most of their time, along with the schools and their peers,” Wickham told the media at Project Safeguarding Our Future Today (SOFT) Residential Camp at the Eastern Caribbean Camp, Ruby, St Philip.
Against the background of the worrying statistics, he said the NCSA has been ramping up its drug education programme in schools, using technology to keep students interested and engaged.
Wickham explained that while the NCSA only has about 19 staff members, technology allows the Council to expand its reach.
“We are also looking to conduct further research in the secondary schools. Unfortunately, at this point in time, we cannot do that but it is on the cards. It’s important for us to have those facts to inform our drug education going forward,” he said.
Project SOFT, which targets students who are transitioning from primary to secondary school, focuses on topics such as anti-bullying, anger management and stress management. The campers also participate in sessions that teach them life skills as well as dance, drama, art and singing.
Wickham explained that Project SOFT, now in its 20th year, is designed to take a holistic approach to substance abuse education.
“Research has shown us that this assists us well and this gives the children an alternative to drug use,” he said.
“We focus mainly on the at-risk population. We get children from the Welfare Department, we get children from the Juvenile Liaison Scheme, we get children from the juvenile justice system, and it is important for us to actually engage these children at this young age as they are persons who are maturing and are, as we would say, at risk of using substances.”
Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs Wilfred Abrahams, who visited the camp on Friday, encouraged the children to choose a path that would lead them to a successful life. He advised them to choose their friends wisely, say no to drugs, and to generally make the right choices.
“I am proud to be able to have Project SOFT again under our ministry. I want to commend the National Council on Substance Abuse for the work that they keep doing in schools and that they keep doing in this camp because we are actually making a difference in the lives of our young people,” Minister Abrahams said.
The camp which started on Thursday will end on Sunday, coinciding with schools’ mid-term break. (AH)