Just about a year ago, the Custom Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) made public that the use and sale of the drug ecstasy was discovered in five schools. Known as a recreational drug, it has harmful side effects including addiction, and can cause altered sensation. CANU’s announcement might have come as a surprise to many and it’s extremely worrying. What is clear is that some young people have and are been exposed to a drug that also affects the brain and one that also has reportedly been used as a date rape trap.
Sadly, drug use in some schools is not new. Unfortunately, young minds are involved in cigarette smoking and consumption of alcohol, to other substances that are far more harmful. Some are bold enough to capture the effects through unsavoury activities they engage in afterwards— evident from videos that circulate. CANU’s Deputy Head Lesley Ramlall noted that looking at the videos, especially those involving young girls, is really worrying for society.
Clearly, this will now attract attention and the expectation would be for the implementation of measures to eliminate this illegal practice, especially within the school system. This will not be easy, and Ramlall did allude to the related challenges honing in on how would you get to the man at the top— the established leader. Law enforcement will have to up the ante in all aspects— including intelligence— to holistically deal with this situation which has a frightening potential to become a wider problem.
While CANU must be commended for making the discovery and alerting the nation, it raises concerns over how long it might have been ongoing; whether the schools were aware, or whether they have the capacity to aid in identifying drug sales and use within. The drug trade tends to operate within a network and at this point, it may difficult to know how extensive it may be in the schools and whether the actual use is confined to the five.
Another reality is that young people will experiment, unfortunately with harmful things. This is where the Education Ministry will have to be more innovative to derive mechanisms to build capacity among teachers, so that they can be able to spot any possible sign. Once again, this will not be easy, given the innovativeness of those involved. That aside, there must be some signs, including changes in students’ behavioural pattern and performances depending upon the extent of usage. This is not just for ecstasy, but other drugs as well.
The teachers will need to be supported in this fight and it may very well demand a relooking of policies at a higher level for the implementation of effective combating mechanisms. This would need some urgency given that some young people, who represent the future, are involved. It will take the involvement of all: parents, teachers, the Ministry of Education, and law enforcement.
Crucial, is sustained education on the harmful effects of drug use, for which the media should be encouraged to be a part of. It has to be national given what’s at stake. Maybe this could be the opportunity for the establishment of a structured school monitoring mechanism with specific responsibility. This has been touted before, for other reasons, where trained personnel could either be stationed or make visits to schools to gauge any related effects.
This will have to be thoroughly thought out, for there is the possibility teachers could feel that part of their responsibility is being usurped. They generally look for signs that could indicate a shift in behaviour and try to find a way of having it resolve. With what is now in the news, it begs the question of whether the situation has in some way moved beyond the remit of teachers; be it a lack of capacity or awareness or frankly being afraid to intervene.
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, speaking on the issue, was quoted as saying law enforcement agencies were “losing the battle” now that drugs have ended up in schools. This is a battle that the nation cannot afford to lose and one which must be consistently and relentlessly fought. While the stark reality is the battle being lost at this point, it can also be seen as a failure by those in authority.
The Government came into office with a strong security portfolio and the Security Minister’s comments, though factual, not only underscores that failure, but it hints at a lack at optimism in dealing with the issue. Granted porous borders, one would want to believe that surveillance has been heightened at ports of entry. The issue again highlights the need for intelligence gathering to be strengthened so as to aid agencies in curbing the situation.
Beyond these shores, in some schools in the USA, metal detectors were forced to be installed following an upsurge of attacks on students by students in what was described as gang-related violence. That was after the situation had festered and grown. Routine searches here may not be farfetched to take nip the ecstasy.