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Schools protecting their reputations by not reporting students hooked on weed

Published:Saturday | June 27, 2015 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson
Michael Tucker
Source: National Council on Drug Abuse.

Several students of Jamaica's more prominent high schools are being denied well-needed help to deal with ganja addiction as administrators at these schools are believed to be keeping cases hush-hush in a bid to protect the 'good name' of the institution.

Days after The Sunday Gleaner first reported that ganja-laced candies were available to some students at Hillel Academy in St Andrew, Collette Kirlew-Browne, director of client services at the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), bemoaned the fact that her organisation is not able to reach some of the most vulnerable drug users because the school administrators are not speaking up.

"The schools, especially the more prominent ones, they don't want to let us in because in doing so they feel they are confessing that they have a problem, and they don't want to bring down the school's standards," said Kirlew-Browne.

She charged that the challenge is particularly hard in the Corporate Area schools.

Addressing a media briefing last Thursday ahead of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking which was marked on Friday, Kirlew-Browne noted that of the clients who visit the NCDA's Montego Bay, St James, office, 80 per cent are adolescents, while 70 per cent of those who visit the Kingston office are adolescents.

"Most of them, especially in Montego Bay, are referred here by their schools. The schools there refer them to our office regularly. As soon as they find a student using drugs they make the referral," explained Kirlew-Browne.




"The Corporate Area is a little bit more tricky to handle, because we don't find them coming in as much from the schools. Most of the adolescent clients in the Corporate Area come from either child guidance clinics or come on probation from the courts."

At the same time, Michael Tucker, executive director at the NCDA, described as irresponsible school administrators who try to hide students suffering from marijuana abuse in an effort to protect their school's reputation.

"The headmasters and headmistresses have been given the responsibility to educate these youths and to mould their future. The use of marijuana and other drugs will stymie that," said Tucker.

"It is very irresponsible for us to pretend there is not a problem when there is a national problem," added Brown.

He noted that the administrators of Hillel Academy have been in discussion with the NCDA on the way forward.

The NCDA officials are hopeful that a renewed partnership with the Ministry of Education will improve school referrals.

"Based on our partnership with the ministry, we should be seeing more reporting from schools," said Kirlew-Browne.

She charged that the education ministry is concerned that there may be an increase in drug use, and wants to partner with the NCDA to do the screening and prevention.

In a survey of 38 schools islandwide, the National Council on Drug Abuse has found that:

- Clarendon with 29.3%, St Thomas with 25.5%, St James at 24.9%, Westmoreland with 24.7%, and St Andrew with 19% were the top five parishes in which students were smoking marijuana.

- Portland (18.9%), St Ann (18.5%), and St Catherine 17.4% follow close behind.

- Thirteen (13) was the average age of first-time marijuana smokers.

- 50.4% of the 3,365 respondents said ganja was being sold near their school compounds.

- Drug usage was significantly higher among the 15-16 age group compared to the 11-14 and 17 and above age groups.

- The use of drugs is higher among males than females.