Governor General, His Excellency, the Most Hon. Professor Sir Kenneth Hall, on Friday (Oct. 31), read a Proclamation declaring November as Drug Awareness Month, during a ceremony at King’s House.
The month, which is being celebrated under the theme: ‘Promoting Drug Free Communities.25 years and Beyond’, will see the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) co-ordinating several activities across the island. The Council will also seek to reach out to diverse volunteer groups that have supported its work.
In a brief address following the Proclamation’s reading, Professor Hall noted that the theme for the month “emphasises the importance of community-based responses to the problem of substance abuse, and the need to strengthen the NCDA to continue its good and essential work.” He also urged all Jamaican communities to support the work of the NCDA, and to participate in the activities which will take place, “so that we can transform our nation for the betterment of all.”
Activities planned for Drug Awareness Month include: parenting seminars, information sessions, healthy lifestyle expositions, and interactive fora with service clubs and faith-based organisations. There will also be a session dubbed: ‘NCDA at 25 – Research and Reasoning’, which will feature a combination of research, poetry, and readings, as well as performances by persons struggling with drug abuse.
Executive Director of the NCDA, Michael Tucker, said that the agency has evolved into the leading drug abuse intervention organisation in the region. “In fact, many of our sister agencies in other countries look to us for some guidance, and, certainly, have adopted many of the initiatives we have undertaken as a National Council in Jamaica,” he noted.
The Executive Director disclosed that much of the NCDA’s work is driven by research, noting that a number of “useful surveys”, especially among youth, deemed most vulnerable to drug abuse, have been done.
“It is (of) some concern to us that a school survey that was done in 2006, pointed to drug use overall, or experimentation (with drugs), being high. However, we have seen (a new development) where young women are experimenting more with drugs. Historically, we had focused on our young men who we thought were more at risk, (and) tended more to use drugs. But now, we see a trend where our young women are experimenting more, and therefore, many of our programmes now have to focus more on our young women,” Mr. Tucker informed.
The Executive Director further pointed out that the organisation has also tried to be innovative in targeting more vulnerable groups. As such, he said that over the past 18 months, the NCDA established 10 community-based clinics that provide counselling support to parents and youngsters, who have significant problems with drug use, HIV/AIDS, and also experience trauma because of violence, both in the communities and domestically.
“Fortunately for us, we are very happy that the policy makers have recognised the link between HIV/AIDS and substance abuse. Recently, we received some funding through the Global Fund, channelled through the HIV/AIDS programme at the Ministry of Health, where we are going to be targeting one of the most vulnerable groups in Jamaica – street people, who are HIV positive and also abusing substances, in particular crack/cocaine,” Mr. Tucker advised.
The Executive Director said that individuals without homes, are often involved in several activities, including commercial sex work (prostitution), “and therefore the risk of them spreading HIV/AIDS and also getting into crime and other things, because of drug abuse, is a very real and dangerous thing,” he stressed.
The NCDA, which falls under the Ministry of Health and Environment, is a statutory body that was established by the Government of Jamaica in 1983. The agency, which has charity status, aims to reduce the demand of and dependence on licit drugs, and the use and abuse of illicit drugs. Over the years, the agency has trained thousands of volunteers and attracted the support of several researchers and community-based advocates.