Punish them

Operators of corner shops, stalls, or other businesses who sell illicit substances to children and adolescents should be slapped with harsher law enforcement measures or heftier fines.

Additionally, parents and family members who expose children to substance use should be held accountable when proven to be engaged in such conduct.

These are among recommendations emanating from a study examining substance misuse among beneficiaries of the Ministry of National Security’s Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP III) last year.

The study is contained in a publication authored by counsellor/social worker Desmond Stewart, social scientist Patrina Thomas-Morrison, and counselling psychologist Melva Spence.

It showed that of 168 clients ages 14 to 39, who were seen for the period April to November 2019, the predominant drug of impact was ganja for the majority (156 or 93.0 per cent).

Of that number, researchers said 54 or 32 per cent had been using substances since they were between seven and nine years of age. There were seven clients whose drug of impact was alcohol and five who used tobacco.

The study also found that the largest number of clients (36) had a voluntary abstinence period of five or fewer days, while the second-highest number of clients (33) had a four-week abstinence period. Only 18 clients had a voluntary abstinence period of five months and more, and 10 clients had never had a period of abstinence.

According to the researchers, “substance misuse is a seriously downplayed problem in Jamaica, especially among vulnerable at-risk youths”.

“The substances can have serious physiological and psychological effects, but the negligible regard demonstrated by both adults and youth in respect of substance misuse is even more deleterious,” they said. They pointed out further that adolescents who were not helped may become “prime recruits for gang membership and criminal activity”.

A 2017 study revealed that 70 per cent of Jamaicans ranging in age from 12 to 65 years reported having easy access to cannabis. Youth reported using substances for stress relief, to fit in with peers, and to boost their confidence.

The CSJP, in 2015, also conducted a survey of 306 beneficiaries between 17 and 25 years of age who were identified as being moderately or highly at risk for violence. The survey revealed that 67 per cent had used marijuana during the past 30 days and that 20 per cent of them smoked marijuana at least 20 times during that period.

The 2019 intervention was carried out through a memorandum of understanding with the National Council on Drug Abuse to which the CSJP beneficiaries across the three counties of Jamaica were referred and treated for substance misuse.

In the meantime, a “disclaimer” within the document, a copy of which was sent to the Jamaica Observer, stated “The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of the Ministry of National Security, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Department for International Development UK, or Global Affairs Canada.”

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