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Very young school children using hard drugs

Public Security Minister, Vice President Khemraj Ramjattan addressing the launching ceremony of the Guyana Secondary School Drug Prevalence Survey

Guyanese school children as young as 12 years old are using marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, tobacco and other illicit substances with most of them drawn from private schools, according to a recent report by the Guyana Drug Information Network Work.

Sponsored by the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Inter American Drug Abuse Control Commission (ICAD), the report states that the average first time marijuana user is 12.8 years old; cocaine 12.1 years old and 11.7 other stimulants.

“Males generally showed greater prevalence rates and higher risks to drug use.  Students at private schools showed higher prevalence rates when compared to their counterparts in public schools,” states the report titled “Drug Use among Secondary School Students in Guyana.”

Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan told the launching ceremony of the report that he was “disheartened” that 52 percent of the students polled during the survey admitted to consuming alcohol once in their lifetime, 31 percent said they drank in the last 12 months, 16 percent consumed alcohol in the last 30 days and 4.9 percent said they were binge drinkers.

“My intention, here, is not to create a moral panic but in all honesty these statistics paint a picture which shames us all. It is an outrage and we must do something about it,” he said.

Among the impacts of drug and other substance use and abuse, he said, are the skipping of school several times per month, drastically reduced performance levels, frequent arguments and fights and often having problems with family members and close friends.

Through Guyana’s National Drug Strategy,  the Public Security Minister said government would seek to reduce drug demand and minimize harm by harnessing the resources of communities, law enforcement agencies and the ministries of public security, health, education and social protection. “We will be mimic men and not seek to reinvent the wheel when we know what is right and proper exists,” he said.

“The objective is to reduce demand through the p0romotion of opportunities. We have to somehow prevent and delay drug use,” he said. He said the package of measures includes sport, recreation, positive parenting, supply reduction to stabilize and eliminate street supply.

Among the major findings were marginal increases in the average age of first time use of tobacco, alcohol, crack and ecstasy when the 2013 results are compared to those from 2007.However, the survey revealed that students were using marijuana and cocaine at a marginally lower age when the two survey results are compared.

The figures show that 18% of public school students have used an illegal drug at least once in their lifetime, compared to 24.5% of private school students.  

Analysis of the data on the use of crack by type of school also yielded no significant variation between the results for private and public schools. The life time prevalence rate (at some point in their life) for private schools was 2.0 per cent, while the life-time prevalence rate for public schools was 1.9 per cent.

The findings further show that private schools exhibited a higher life-time prevalence rate for cocaine use than public schools.  The life time prevalence rate for private schools was 3.4 per cent, while the life-time prevalence rate for public schools was 1.3 per cent.

In terms of marijuana, the one-year prevalence rate for public schools was 3.2 per cent, while the one-year prevalence rate for private schools was 11.6 per cent. Similarly, one-month prevalence rate for public schools was 1.8 per cent, while the one-month prevalence rate for private schools was 6.7 per cent.

Private schools showed a significantly higher life-time prevalence rate for marijuana use than public schools.  The life time prevalence rate for private schools was 16.4 per cent, while the life-time prevalence rate for public schools was 5.8 per cent.

Students from private schools showed a significantly higher life-time prevalence rate for alcohol use than those from public schools.  The life time prevalence rate for alcohol use by students from private schools was 61.8 per cent, while the life-time prevalence rate for public schools was 51.4 per cent.

So where do they get these licit and illicit substances from: 26.7 percent got alcohol from friends, 9.8 percent from parents and guardians, 10.8 percent from other relatives and 4.9 percent each from street vendors and siblings and 13.8 percent from other persons

About 30.1 percent of the respondents said they got marijuana from friends; 3.7 from parents, less than 5 percent from siblings; 14.7 percent from other relatives and 24.4 percent from street vendors or pushers. Of the number of school children polled, 44.2 percent said they got cocaine from friends; 9.3 percent from parents/guardians, less than 5 percent from siblings, 31 percent from other relatives and 12.9 percent from street vendors or pushers

The survey report states that 18.1 percent of the school children consume alcoholic beverages are mostly consumed, 8.2 percent at school, 2.3 percent on the block or corner, 4.4 percent at a friend’s house, 33.3 percent at a sporting event, and 22.9 percent at other social event.  An estimated 26.2 percent consumed marijuana at home, less than one percent at school, 13.9 percent on the block/corner, 15.4 percent at a friend’s house, 20.9 percent at a sporting event, 7.6 percent at other social event and 15.2 percent elsewhere.

In terms of cigarette use, private schools showed a significantly higher life-time prevalence rate than public schools.  The life time prevalence rate for private schools was 23.0 per cent, while the life-time prevalence rate for public schools was 16.3 per cent.  

The survey found that overall students are aware of the dangers of drug use as more than 50% of them indicated that using any type of drug is very harmful to their health: Generally students are not curious to try a drug even if given the opportunity- more than 80% said no. The survey recommends that efforts be taken to reduce students’ access to drugs in public places such as sporting events and from being able to purchase alcohol and cigarettes in shops.

A total of 1,890 questionnaires were administered resulting in 1,712 valid questionnaires.  Of the valid questionnaires: 1,266 were from public schools and 446 were from private schools.  A breakdown shows that 718 of these students were from the 2nd form (8th grade),  615 were from the 4th form (10th grade) and  379 were from the 5th form (11th grade).  The report states that few Form 5 students were interviewed because the survey schedule coincided with the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination schedule and despite all efforts to work with the schools and the students around heir exam schedule; many students opted to not participate in the survey after they had written an exam. 

According to the document, another obstacle that impacted on the amount of data collected was the weather.  Due to heavy rainfall there were significant challenges in reaching students in the more remote regions such as region 1 and 9. In these regions many students are forced to miss school during the rainy season because of heavy flooding and long commutes.