Greg-Louis Austin and Ellen Campbell-Grizzle | ‘Talk Di Truth’ about drug abuse
November each year is recognised as Drug Awareness Month when the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) highlights its delivery of research-driven public education, prevention and treatment programmes in pursuit of its vision to reduce the use and abuse of licit and illicit substances.
The NCDA has administered a number of research activities to measure, particularly, adolescent health, behavioural risk and protective factors, which have provided empirical data to highlight the dangers of drug use among the adolescent population
The most recent Jamaica School Health Survey 2017 collected data from 1,667 students (aged 13-17) in four schools islandwide using the World Health Organization/Pan-American Health Organization/Centers for Disease Control methodology for analysis. The results revealed that 45 per cent, 18 per cent and 13 per cent of the respondents reported use of alcohol, tobacco products and ganja within the last 30 days, while 49 per cent and 34 per cent of students reported ease of access to alcohol and ganja, respectively.
Information from this survey also indicated that suicidal ideation and attempts were significantly associated with parental affection, quality time and advice; parenting was seen as the strongest protective factor for all health behaviours. The results also highlighted a relationship between early onset of drug use and early initiation of sexual activity, while 11 per cent reported getting into trouble and fights because of alcohol consumption.
The NCDA continues to design and implement prevention programmes in schools and works closely with guidance counsellors, health and family life education facilitators and peer counsellors with high levels of success.
PREVENTION BETTER THAN CURE
This adage remains true and becomes specifically alive when dealing with drug abuse prevention. The NCDA, in ensuring a happy, healthy, drug-free Jamaica, has designed and implemented prevention programmes with high levels of success.
One such intervention is 'Talk Di Truth; Future Come First', a universal high-school initiative developed in response to the decriminalisation of ganja in Jamaica. It teaches decision-making skills through the engagement of youngsters in discussion and information sharing about the facts surrounding ganja use. In this programme, the NCDA conducted islandwide focus groups with youth aged 15-19 to find out about their experience with ganja. The participants were also asked to say what they would like to hear from prevention messages.
Another survey in the pipeline is the Jamaica Tertiary Institution Drug Prevalence Survey, which was piloted at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), as part of the Advanced Ganja Abuse Prevention Education (AGAPE) Programme. AGAPE is a substance abuse prevention programme for tertiary institutions with the goal of reducing the acceptability of ganja use for recreational purposes on the UTech campuses while increasing interest in research for medicinal purposes.
Substance abuse programmes globally operate on the concept that populations need to be consistently and systematically reminded about substance use and misuse throughout the life cycle. This justifies the need for research activities and substance prevention programmes to be executed at each educational level - preprimary, primary, secondary and tertiary.
There is currently a gap in prevalence studies research in tertiary educational institutions partially owing to matters of perception and potential stigma. The NCDA continues to champion the cause of substance abuse prevention and defies odds to achieve high levels of success in the delivery of research-driven public education and support to the Jamaican and regional populations to lead healthy lives and achieve self-actualisation.
- Greg-Louis Austin is senior lecturer and head of the School of Allied Health & Wellness, College of Health Sciences, UTech, and board member of National Council on Drug Abuse.
- Dr Ellen Campbell-Grizzle is associate professor of the College of Health Sciences, UTech. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.