Mental health expert underscores importance of drug use prevention

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Dr Jerry Simon. (File photo)
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By Makeida Antonio

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A mental health specialist certified in drug abuse and addiction treatment is pointing to preventative measures in the fight against cannabis use among minors.

Medical Director at Crossroads Centre, Dr Jerry Simon, has seen many cases of addiction to cannabis in teenagers.

He pleaded with parents to receive information which can be passed on to their children about the consequences of drug use so that they do not end up seeking addiction counselling services during adolescence.

“There are very few countries in the world that have a handle on addiction amongst their youth, and the only way we can really diffuse the problem is by going back to basic principles, going back to early intervention even before the children start, teach them the dangers of drugs. Teach them about not using drugs, go back to what we call the civics classes,” Dr Simon said on Observer radio’s Big Issues yesterday.

Dr Simon revealed that he sometimes works alongside the Youth Intervention Unit (YIU), a special unit within the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda to curb deviant behaviour in the country’s youth.

He said has received referrals from the officers attached to that department, and in some instances, he offers his services free of cost to affected families.

“All the officers from the Youth Intervention Unit, they have my number and they will call me from time to time, sometimes on the weekends. They will call me, and I will give my services to them and the children. In fact, if the parents cannot pay, I tell them right out it’s okay, you don’t have to pay because I have a son who is a teenager as well, and I know what it’s like to have a child who is on drugs because it disrupts the family,” the addiction specialist noted.

However, Dr Simon is concerned that youth affected by cannabis abuse are not receiving the necessary treatment as they are not completing the drug rehabilitation programme.

“The family will come for the first session, then the second session, and then I’m calling the officer. Where is that student that was referred to me? I can’t get in touch with the parents, can the parents call me? I am telling them this instead of them being the ones calling me and that’s what we find.

It’s like the parents want me to write a letter saying that the child has gone through the programme and the child is ready to go back to school. We don’t seem to have, even at the parental level, that impetus to realise that this is a serious problem,” he added.

Since 2018, several professionals have called for more attention to be placed on cannabis use among minors, particularly after the possession of small amounts of the drug was decriminalised.

The major concern is the way the drug affects the brain which is still undergoing development during adolescence.

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