By Elesha George
Feona Charles-Richards, the head of the newly launched Substance-use Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation Center (SPARC), believes the department could force change in substance abuse among young people in Antigua and Barbuda.
Staggering figures provided by the Inter-American Observatory on Drugs (OID) of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), through the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP) in Antigua and Barbuda, show that the twin-island state is leading in the use of cannabis/marijuana.
The Report on Drug Use in the Americas 2019 analyses current drug use data in the hemisphere. It features information on the most widely used drugs across the region. The data provided henceforth speaks to use of these drugs among secondary school students in Antigua and Barbuda during 2013.
According to this report, among the 12 Caribbean countries that provided data, Antigua and Barbuda ranked the highest with almost 25 percent prevalence in the use of marijuana among secondary school students. Marijuana use was between 17.20 percent and 23.89 percent. More males used marijuana than females.
In addition, more females than males perceive that occasional marijuana use is highly risky and more than 50 percent of students perceive marijuana to be easily available. Among Caribbean countries, the highest percentages of students directly offered marijuana were seen among students in Antigua and Barbuda with 36.5 percent.
Only the Commonwealth of Dominica beat Antigua and Barbuda concerning data on lifetime use of marijuana among 8th-grade students. This grade represents the youngest age group in the secondary school target population – students aged 14 and younger.
The twin-island state also ranked number 3 in the Caribbean for prevalence in alcohol use. Past month prevalence of alcohol use among secondary school students in Antigua Barbuda, in 2013, ranked between 31.40 per cent and 41.09 percent.
Charles-Richards said 68 percent of binge drinking of alcohol was recorded, notably among the adolescent population, with girls 5 percent higher than boys. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on a single occasion during the two weeks prior to a survey.
Meanwhile, 25 percent or higher of 8th grade students had drunk alcohol within the month surveyed. The data shows a general rise in drinking rates by age, starting with students who are 12-13 years old, then 15-16, and 17 or older. Additionally, more than 50 percent of the students who drank alcohol during the survey month engaged in harmful alcohol use.
The data also showed that inhalants – psychoactive substances that give off chemical gases and are inhaled to produce mind-altering effects – are used by 4.40 per cent – 7.49 per cent of students in secondary school. More females than males are reported to have used inhalants, and use among young people began at least by the 8th grade.
Looking at the Caribbean countries, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines stand out, with a lifetime prevalence of over 15 per cent among 8th graders.
Further down the line, 1.80 per cent – 2.99 per cent of secondary school students were said to have used or had access to cocaine. The twin island state ranks the third among its Caribbean counterparts in this category, with male students exhibiting higher rates of cocaine use than females. In three Caribbean countries, which includes Antigua and Barbuda, lifetime prevalence is 4 per cent, for students aged 13 and younger.
In Antigua and Barbuda 1.80 per cent – 3.39 per cent among the secondary school students surveyed also used tobacco. More females and males are reported to have used tobacco but males are said to have smoked more frequently.
The surveys conducted date back from as early as 2009 for some countries to as current as 2017. The statistical analysis contains information from three primary data sources: 1. General population surveys 2. secondary school surveys 3. University student surveys.
Charles-Richards also revealed that students as young as seven years old had access to some of these drugs. She said, “It meant that persons were getting introduced in their family settings, in their school settings as early as seven years old”, according to the statistics by CICAD, OAS and ONDCP reports.
SPARC plans to implement a three-phased plan to address the prevalence in substance use among adolescents. During the first phase, SPARC will launch a public awareness communication strategy that will make the population aware of the dangers of these substances. Phase two will include the training of community groups to encourage residents to create a vision for their own communities and programmes that will empower young people to decrease the use of dangerous substances. The final phase is to create a home that will facilitate rehabilitation of substance users who show signs of concurrent mental health challenges and adolescent health problems with drugs.
The head of SPARC said this is the evidence-based approach best suited for adolescents.