Increased use of drugs in schools and the possibility of students developing lifelong drug abuse habits can only cease if authorities implement stringent measures to prevent this scourge from spiralling out of control.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Narine Singh shared this assessment of the situation on the observance of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Friday.
According to him, the issues that have caught the attention of authorities in recent times have been the use of drugs in schools and increased alcohol abuse and smoking among the younger population.
Commenting on the situation, Dr Singh vocalised, “We recognise the problem of drug abuse in the schools is increasing, and we need to tackle it. It is an increasing problem, every day, we hear different students are getting involved in drug use. It is an opportunity for us to work with the school clubs. A lot of things start in the schools, and later in the adult life; we see the full picture, we can break that chain.”
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other bodies have been working with the Ministry in addressing this subject. The Education Ministry has also been engaged in reaching into the school population and targeting adolescents involved in such practices; and also, to spread awareness.
The Chief Medical Officer pointed out that, very often, alcohol is dismissed as a matter of drug. However, there is a strong connection between drug abuse of any nature and mental health.
“Sometimes we dismiss it (alcohol) as something social and acceptable, but alcohol abuse is happening, and not only the health effects but also the social and economic impacts it has on its abuse…
“There is a strong relationship between mental health and drug abuse. That’s why substance abuse disorder is one of the diseases you will see under psychiatric illnesses. It is a mental illness, and it is recognised as a mental illness. That’s where we come in, because drug use disorders, we have to deal with it,” he stressed.
Resources have been injected into the Drug Demand Reduction Unit and Mental Health Unit amid the scourge of drug abuse in society, which is on the rise. Psychologists have been deployed to all administrative regions, but having realised there isn’t enough psychiatrists in the system, the Ministry has been working to fill this gap.
Recognising that rehabilitation is of paramount importance after persons are prosecuted, the senior health official said, efforts are also directed at the prison system, to engage inmates.
Singh detailed that while the Health Ministry can address addiction and other health matters in relation to drug abuse, the issue of supply is outside of its ambit.
“This problem is not a Ministry of Health problem alone. It’s a problem that needs a lot of collaboration… The Ministry of Health recognises that it is a major challenge, and it is becoming more challenging recently,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy, Mark Cullinane, pointed out that in many nations, drug addiction and trafficking have a plethora of negative effects. The US Government has announced continued support in handling some of these issues in Guyana.
“We know, from experience, the effects of drug addiction and drug trafficking are almost too numerous to list. We know of the health implications, the cost to the economy, impact to security in our neighbourhoods. These are all topics that demand deeper attention and discussion. And the United States is right here with you and with the Government of Guyana in tackling some of these issues,” Cullinane revealed.
In the drug trade, Guyana has been dubbed a trans-shipment port to supply larger markets. But according to the Chief of Mission, products ‘fall off the wagon’ and have an enormous impact on institutions.
“On this issue of trafficking, the United States Department of State: Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, our Office of Diplomatic Security and our Drug Enforcement Agency, all have a presence here in Guyana, with some focus on assistance to build Guyana’s capacity to fight drug trafficking.”