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Drug fears haunt schools

With the return of face-to-face classes and pre-pandemic idealism, anti-drug advocates in Jamaica are lobbying for more support as they fight against not only tobacco smoking but the use of methylenedioxymethamphetamine – a stimulant commonly known as molly, or Ecstasy – among youth.

The use of molly produces psychedelic effects similar to the hallucinogens mescaline and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

Michael Tucker, executive director of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), is among the stakeholders most concerned about the worrying trend for Jamaican youth.

“It can cause serious problems with young people. It can affect their brains and affect heart rates, affect how they operate normally, make them do things they wouldn’t normally do and lose control,” said Tucker in a Gleaner interview on the margins of a World No Tobacco Day Youth Forum held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday.

“A stimulant like that, it is not safe for anybody to take something like that, especially if it’s not prescribed,” he added, warning of the altered sensation and induced energy and pleasure.

But anti-smoking campaigners are keeping their sights closely focused on tobacco use among youth, with more than 44 per cent – males 50.1 per cent, females 39.1 per cent – of Jamaican students admitting to having smoked cigarettes, according to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey – Jamaica 2010.

Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness, said approximately eight million people die each year because of direct tobacco use and second-hand exposure, and approximately 65,000 young people, through second-hand smoke, die each year because of tobacco use.

Tufton said the latest research by the NCDA suggested that tobacco is used more prevalently than other drugs in schools.

“Drugs in school, it is a concern, and more specifically e-cigarettes and the access because of the way these are developed, produced, and marketed in the school system … ,” the health minister said.

“The research does suggest that 15 per cent of children use tobacco. Marijuana also factors in the research,” Tufton said.

Tufton said one of the imperatives of public-health officials is to work closer with school authorities to provide information and training that will influence student behaviour, particularly in consumption habits, physical activity, and on drug use. Schools, he said, continue to be a fertile ground of temptation and for experimentation.

He said a comprehensive anti-drug approach is envisioned, but he acknowledged that all schools are not equally and adequately equipped.

“It’s hard to pronounce in a blanket way that all schools are [equipped], because not all schools have the same resources, whether human resources, infrastructure or the capital for messaging,” Tufton said.

Jennifer Jarrett, a guidance counsellor at Calabar High, who was present at Tuesday’s forum, told The Gleaner that smuggling of drugs on the school compound had not been as pervasive as in the past but was still a nagging concern.

“We have seen a significant difference, and the reason for that is because of certain programmes that we have had in the school from the guidance department,” Jarrett said in a Gleaner interview.

“Young men now, they are able to express themselves to us as counsellors. They have their teachers. They have their dean of studies. They have the dean of discipline that they can really talk to and relate to,” she added.

Another guidance counsellor, Nova Henry of Jamaica College, shared similar sentiments.

“There is no prevalent drug use at our school. If any issue comes up, there are intervention strategies that we use, and, in fact, we use a programme and partnership with the National Council on Drug Abuse to come in,” said Henry.