By Orville Williams
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has forced countless changes to aspects of our social lives, one thing remains true: marijuana is still the most used ‘drug’ within the Antigua and Barbuda population, particularly among the youth.
Officials with the Substance-Use Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation Centre (SPARC) made that declaration yesterday, during an appearance on Observer AM.
Alcohol, cocaine and crack join marijuana on the most used list, but neither can surpass the prevalence of the plant which has “always been [at the top] and is even more [used] now that we have the decriminalisation”.
Drug Education Officer with SPARC, Feona Scotland, says it is especially popular at the high school level.
“We have had a few young people – especially in the secondary schools – coming into the office or being referred, so it is a challenge [in the youth population]. They will tell you that they don’t have a problem, their parents are the ones who have a problem.”
She further disclosed that upon having discussions with the parents in these situations, it is often found that the child was exposed to drugs at an even earlier age – as young as 10 years old – by someone like a family member.
That disclosure is certainly not farfetched, as there are several other examples of youth being exposed to drugs which have received public attention.
Late last year, a toddler was removed from the care of an adult after a video showing the child smoking what appeared to be a marijuana ‘joint’ went locally viral on social media.
Just last month as well, the police conducted a search at the Pares Secondary School where drugs including marijuana, marijuana-infused food products and ecstasy were found.
Like many other unwanted societal issues, drug use is becoming harder and harder to prevent, because it has arguably become a part of the socio-cultural framework.
In some sections of society, parents approve drug use by their children, often on the basis that the parents themselves ‘use drugs and they’re perfectly fine’.
In other areas, drug use is still viewed as taboo and is frowned upon. Many children in those areas, however, look to the activity as some sort of rite of passage to be accepted by their peers and anyone else whose approval matters.
SPARC is one of the many agencies trying to intervene in these situations, but their efforts face limitations like funding and access to certain resources.
One of the resources lacking, according to Scotland, is a rehabilitation centre for youth.
“There are times when you need more than just the counselling to be done with the youth, and getting them to do an assessment at Clarevue [Psychiatric Hospital] is kind of a challenge because you have to go through a process.
“Crossroads [a rehabilitation facility] only takes them when they’re 21 and they have to do the assessment up there as well.”
Despite the challenges, SPARC intends to continue its campaign against substance abuse, with new programmes aimed at the youth population to be launched soon.
Marijuana was decriminalised for personal use in Antigua and Barbuda in 2018, under the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill. Since then, efforts have been made by the government to establish a viable marijuana industry.