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Government to tackle misuse of ganja, especially among youth

Published:Friday | October 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM
De La Haye

Jamaica's chief medical officer, Dr Winston De La Haye, is warning that the use of marijuana continues to be embedded in aspects of the Jamaican culture and remains the most commonly used illicit drug among the general population, particularly among the youth.

Speaking at a special meeting on the 'Public Health Dimension of the World Drug Problem Post-UNGASS 2016 and the Role of Scientific Evidence' at the 55th Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Directing Council meeting in Washington, DC, United States, last month, De La Haye outlined some of challenges being faced in Jamaica and plans to address them.

"The use of marijuana continues to be embedded in aspects of the Jamaican culture and it remains the most commonly used illicit drug, with a lifetime prevalence of 13.5 per cent among the general population [2008 Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey] and 20.7 per cent among secondary students [2013 National Secondary School Survey, NCDA/OAS]," De La Haye advised the meeting of public-health specialists.

"The average age of first use of marijuana was 12 years. There is a worrisome reality concerning the access to and availability of marijuana among the secondary-school population, with approximately 50 per cent reporting that it was available in and around school compounds."

He went on to explain that a significantly higher proportion of students who used marijuana reported having behavioural and academic problems, as outlined in the 2013 National Secondary School Survey, conducted by the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) and the Organisation of American States (OAS).


Increase in cannabis use


The Inter-American Observatory on Drugs of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD-OAS), in its recent report on the 'Situation of Consumption of Substances in the Caribbean Region', showed an increase in the use of cannabis by teen populations, accompanied by a reduction in the perception of risk concerning cannabis consumption.

The chief medical officer said 90 per cent of the adolescents seen in the NCDA's drug-treatment programme are referred due to problems associated with marijuana use.

NCDA's treatment reports reflected a 54 per cent increase in students enrolled in a ganja prevention programme called 'STEP-UP', since the decrimi-nalisation of possession of two ounces or less of ganja. Ongoing islandwide surveillance in drug-treatment centres also revealed that 50 per cent of the clients are in treatment for ganja use.


National survey


De La Haye announced that a National Drug Prevalence Survey is now under way across the island and will provide key information on current patterns of use among the general population ages 12-65 years, and provide key baseline data for us to determine trends.

Reports from key stakeholders in the law-enforcement, education and health sectors have been consistent regarding public perception of the recent amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act.

The perception, particularly among youth, is that ganja is now a legal drug to be used at leisure regardless of location, age, quantity and context.

Lack of enforcement of laws concerning possession and smoking of ganja is also leading to a breakdown in law and order and deterioration of non-smokers' rights to enjoy smoke-free environments, especially in public spaces.

The NCDA proposed and presented a comprehensive public-education campaign to the Cabinet subcommittee on ganja, which was accepted and should have been funded by the participating government agencies/ministries.

To date, the Ministry of Health is the only ministry that has contributed to the public-education campaign and additional funding was received from the United States Embassy through the International Narcotics Legislation.

De La Haye said of the $321 million needed for this comprehensive strategy, just 20 per cent was received and expended. The additional funding is urgently required to complete the public education programme to inform persons on the harms of cannabis use and misuse, treatment options and a special emphasis on prevention of use by the youth.

The meeting was organised by the Department of Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health, PAHO.