Head of the Police Narcotics Branch, Senior Superintendent Kurleigh Simon, on Monday announced welcoming news that there has been a reduction of the alarming problem of drug usage in schools here.
Just under nine months ago, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) had 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 sensations.
CANU’s announcement might have come as a surprise to many, and is extremely worrying. What is clear is that some young people have been, and are being, exposed to a drug that also affects the brain and has reportedly been used as a date rape trap.
Sadly, drug use in some schools is reportedly not new. Unfortunately, young minds are involved in cigarette smoking and consumption of alcohol and other substances that are far more harmful. Some are bold enough to capture the effects through unsavoury activities they engage in afterwards, as is evident from videos that circulate.
While both the GPF and CANU must be commended for making the discovery and alerting the destiny of the nation’s young people, concerns are raised over how long this situation might have been ongoing; whether the schools were aware of its existence; and 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 be difficult to know how extensive that network may be in the schools, and whether the actual use is confined to the five schools already identified.
Another reality is that young people will, unfortunately, experiment with harmful things. This is where the Education Ministry will have to be more innovative in devising mechanisms to build capacity among teachers, so that they can be able to spot any possible sign of students being affected by drugs. 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 patterns and performances, depending upon the extent of usage. This is not just for ecstasy, but for 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 Education Ministry and law enforcement, to fight this fight.
Crucial is sustained education on the harmful effects of drug use, for which the media should be encouraged to be a part of. The fight 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 responsibilities. This has been touted before, though for other reasons, where trained personnel could either be stationed at, or make visits to, schools to gauge any related effects.
This will have to be thoroughly thought out, for there is the possibility that teachers could feel that part of their responsibilities is being usurped. They generally look for signs that could indicate a shift in behaviour, and try to find a way of having it resolved. 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.
This Government came into office with a strong security portfolio, and the Security Minister’s comments, though factual, not only underscores that failure, but hint at a lack at optimism in dealing with the issue. Granted that the borders are porous, 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 compulsorily 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. It may not be a farfetched measure to implement routine searches here to nip the problem in the bud.