Substance abuse in schools

The National Anti-Narcotics Agency (NANA) on Monday made a startling announcement: that substance use in Guyana continues to increase, with law enforcement agencies uncovering the sale of ecstasy to school children spanning several regions of Guyana in both public and private schools. According to NANA, in addition to the use of ecstasy, it was discovered that the use of alcohol among young children is a very prevalent occurrence, despite laws governing the sale of alcohol to persons under the age of 18 years old.
Only late last year, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), another law enforcement agency, had revealed that the use and sale of drugs were discovered in several local schools. Chief among the drugs that were being sold in schools was ecstasy, which is 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 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 one that also 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 activities ranging from cigarette smoking to consumption of alcohol to other activities that are far more harmful. Some are bold enough to capture the effects through unsavoury activities they engaged in afterwards, as is evident from videos that circulate.
With this second shocking revelation by NANA coming less than a year after CANU made similar findings, 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 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 both NANA and CANU must be commended for making the discovery and alerting the nation, it rises the concerns over how long it might have been ongoing, and 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.
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. The teachers will need to be supported in this fight, and it may very well demand a relooking at 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.
Crucial is sustained education on the harmful effects of drug use, for which the media should be encouraged to be a part. 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 behavior, and try to find a way of having it resolve.
NANA, however, must be commended for its intervention in targeting young people, and to equip them with the tools and skills needed to build resilience, self- confidence, and other life skills to make informed decisions.
Routine searches here may not be farfetched to nip the ecstasy and drugs in schools.