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Health Minister says “comprehensive” anti-drug addiction plan in pipeline- Anthony

Last Updated on Monday, 26 June 2023, 20:18 by Denis Chabrol

Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony on Monday announced that a “comprehensive” anti-drug addiction programme including treatment services at clinics, rehabilitation centres and the training of drug addiction specialists.

He made the announcements at a public forum to mark the United Nations-designated International Day against Illicit Trafficking and Drug Abuse under the theme “People First: stop stigma and Discrimination, strengthen Prevention”.

While welcoming the role of the drug treatment courts as an alternative to imprisonment, Dr Anthony hoped that the education system would include drug demand reduction in its curriculum and law enforcement agencies as well as communities would work together to go after drug pushers.

Official figures from the Drug Treatment Court, which was established six years ago, show that of the 10 persons who agreed to receive treatment, including psychotherapy, one graduated in March 2023, another has agreed to move on to stage three, two others are also still participating and six others have disenrolled for “various reasons, lack of programme compliance being the main reason.”  An official said those who had opted out were receiving counselling and providing community service.

He also identified the need to provide more support to school-dropouts in a systemic manner, though a number of them had been already receiving government support. “We have to find a way of working with them because, in many ways, they are more vulnerable so those who drop out of school. We have to figure out a way of how to reach them, of how to work with them,” he said.

In addition to passing mental health legislation and crafting strategies to address specific needs, the Health Minister hoped that the treatment of drug addicts could be expanded and integrated into Guyana’s primary healthcare services. The plan, he said, is to eventually do so at the 350 health centres and outposts as well as another 10 clinics that would be established by yearend.  “If this is a national problem, then we need to have more clinics and make them more accessible to people,” he said.

The Ministry of Health’s non-communicable and chronic disease departments plan to ask the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) to train drug addiction specialists, in addition to the already available psychiatrists and psychologists. “We do not have sufficient persons trained to serve addicted persons . This is an area that we have to train more people in how to work with persons with addiction,” Dr Anthony, a public health specialist, told the gathering.

He said the drug treatment centres- Salvation Army and Phoenix- could not handle the large number of drug addicts who have been seeking rehabilitation services, prompting government to decide to establish a publicly-0wned centre as part of the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Programme. “This service is really, really needed for pers0ns who are out there. They cannot cope with the demand that is out there…I think this is a problem that we have to confront and the only way we can do this is to ensure that the services we are providing will be comprehensive,” he said.

Magistrate Rondell Weaver

Magistrate Rondell Weever said the Drug Treatment Court provides for 13 months of treatment in four months. They include psychotherapy services from the Mental Health Unit, community services with the police force and residential treatment with the Salvation Army and Phoenix Recovery Project.  She said while accessing residential treatment, the participants have received tangible assistance through the Ministry of Human Service Public Assistance Programme. Participants, Magistrate Weever added, have obtained and maintained employment, setting short-term and long-term goals in which we have seen most of those goals being accomplished. “The drug treatment court is a life-changing and transforming court. No one is ever too broken, too scarred or too far gone to create change. Therefore, this court will never lose hope and will continue to put its participants first in ensuring that we create the change that we desire to see in the lives of our participants,” she added.

Director the Ministry of Health’s Department of Non-Communicable Diseases, Dr Latchmie Lall said only two clinics were offering rehabilitation and drug treatment services and “we plan to expand even more but we need everyone to contribute.”

Offenders who are charged with committing any offence involving the use of violence or a weapon or who have a criminal history of violent offences generally do not qualify for the drug treatment court. Ms Weever explained that the specified offence should be a non-violent criminal offence where there is a demonstrative drug dependency.

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June 2023