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'Street children hooked on ganja'

Erica Virtue, Staff Reporter

Many of the 69 young persons, including school age boys and young men up to age 25 years, who are registered under the newly-established Possibility Programme, are hooked on ganja.

The programme which was initiated by the Office of the Prime Minister and launched last year August is directed at scores of youngsters at the island's major road intersections, wiping windscreens and abusing motorists.

Its co-ordinator, Carmen Lazarus, who is the manager of the St. Andrew Care Centre where the boys are registered, says it is helping to teach the boys a skill and provide them with a bath and meal. But she admitted last week their aggression towards motorists may be as a result of ganja addiction.

"Yes. They are using drugs too much. They can't think, they are not stupid. They are just wired. It costs $10 to get a spliff (marijuana cigarette), and if they can make up to $2,000 per day. Do you know how many spliffs they can buy?" she said.

Ganja was the substance most used, she said, with many wiping windscreens to maintain their habit.

According to her, "What we are doing right now is talking to the parents and guidance counsellors, where we can find them, to try and calm them down."

She admitted that it will be hard to keep them off the streets where they can make between $500 and $2,000 a day begging, borrowing and threatening people.

Asked if there was any scientific evidence linking the use of ganja with aggressive behaviour, Sonita Morin-Abrahams of Addiction Alert, said she could identify none.

"I have not seen any studies that really show that ganja causes aggression," she said. She noted, however, that "If they are mixing the ganja with crack (cocaine) that could cause aggression. They get a 'seasoned spliff'. One is a 'upper' and one is a 'downer' and that can cause mood swings which could lead to aggression, and outrageous behaviour."

According to her, there was evidence to show that when some persons used ganja "it sent them off," but she said, there was a condition known as "marijuana-induced psychosis", which was a mental problem aggravated by the use of marijuana.

"This could cause aggression, but it was a mental condition," she said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Lazarus said, only five per cent of the school age boys registered were not attending schools and according to her, truancy and lack of parental guidance were the major reasons why many were on the roads.

"They can make a roast, so they leave school and come on the streets. But the police are going to give them a hard time. So now, at most intersections, the school-age boys are missing, but older ones are there."

She said the public can assist by refusing to give money, and keeping their cars locked at intersections, to safeguard their property.

The Care Centre's intake point is at 4 Hagley Park Road on the grounds of the St. Andrew Parish Church. The youths are provided with showers and meals during the day and there is practical and academic skills training for the 15-25 year olds who are registered.

At present, leather craft and shoe design are offered as trade skills, and all the boys are catered to, regardless of their academic qualifications.

There is dialogue with parents, guardians, good friends and relatives of those who may not have places to sleep at nights, so that particular problem can be addressed. Child care officers are present at the registration point, she said, to assist them with placing those under 18 in institutions for boys.

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