A pleasant good morning to you all. I am pleased to address you at this meeting convened to highlight the key findings from the 2017 and 2018 Barbados Drug Information Network Reports.
The national response to the local drug problem requires reliable and up-to-date information from the demand reduction and supply sectors which can be used to inform effective policymaking and programming. The Barbados Drug Information Network (BARDIN) provides a consolidated source of such information and therefore continues to be a key element of the national response, as is reflected in its objectives, which are as follows:
- To strengthen the capacity of Barbados to respond to changing drug use trends
- To provide current epidemiological and other information on substance abuse
- To regularly update this information
- To identify trends in drug consumption and offenses related to illicit drugs
- To provide relevant information for the planning, evaluation and management of drug control programmes
BARDIN also forms part of a regional surveillance network to strengthen the capacity of governments, technical entities and local agencies to respond to changing patterns of drug use and substance abuse in the Caribbean. Drug surveillance systems have also been established in Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda and these networks have led to coordinated efforts among regional and international agencies with regard to the implementation of drug abuse control programmes.
In June 2019, efforts were made to improve and expand BARDIN through: (1) the signing of Memoranda of Understanding between the NCSA and Network members to formalize the reporting obligations of all involved; (2) the implementation of standardized data collection forms to facilitate trend analysis; and (3) the launching of a pilot project, spearheaded by the Organization of American States, to expand the number of contributing agencies as well as the scope of data collected.
The data for the 2017 and 2018 Reports were collected against the backdrop of these efforts. As such, I am happy to see the addition of the Financial Intelligence Unit within these reports as well as increased data from the treatment centres and the Royal Barbados Police Force.
I encourage other departments to join the BARDIN ranks in an effort to provide a wider view of the local drug situation – in particular, tertiary healthcare providers such as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. This suggestion is made against the backdrop of a recent media article which highlighted an incident where a male pleaded guilty to the offence of dangerous driving. His plead was as a result of an accident which caused the death of an international visitor to the island. The accused in this matter admitted that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.
While this is an extreme case, instances of alcohol impaired driving usually go undetected and undocumented in Barbados, due simply to a lack of testing. Mechanisms such as BARDIN can give us insight into this issue but, for this to occur, the testing of drivers must take place.
Therefore, I urge the NCSA to collaborate with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF), and other relevant stakeholders to determine how this type of data can be collected within the scope of the existing Road Traffic Act Cap. 295 which allows for breathalyzer and other testing.
Challenges Facing BARDIN
I am told that despite the signing of the MOUs in 2019, data collection challenges continue to plague BARDIN. These include the late submission of data and the absence of data from some agencies which together reduce the content and reporting capacity of BARDIN and prevent the timely dissemination of reports.
While I recognise the difficulties experienced by some agencies which hamper their full participation in BARDIN, I encourage you to renew your commitment, as collaboration with partners/stakeholders such as yourselves is pivotal to the efficiency and effectiveness of this important mechanism.
Despite the challenges, the NCSA continues to make great strides in the preparation and dissemination of BARDIN reports; and this would not be possible without the support of long-standing contributors such as: The Edna Nicholls Centre, the Psychiatric Hospital, the Substance Abuse Foundation, the Centre for Counselling Addiction Support Alternatives, the Royal Barbados Police Force and the Barbados Prison Service. The success of BARDIN to date relies primarily on their contributions and therefore, their continued participation and commitment to information sharing must be lauded.
Findings from the 2017 & 2018 Reports
The 2017 and 2018 reports show that the local drug situation continues to be primarily characterized by marijuana, cocaine (crack and powdered) and alcohol. However, this appears to be slowly diversifying to include non-traditional substances. These reports highlight a small number of persons seeking treatment for ecstasy as well as police seizures of ecstasy and methamphetamine. Of particular note is the fact that the 2017 and 2018 reports are the first to show police seizures of methamphetamine. Therefore, careful attention should be paid to this as it may point to an emerging trend. Previous BARDIN reports also point to the diversification of the drug situation given sporadic cases of persons seeking treatment for additional substances such as opioids, amphetamines and crystal meth.
While minimal, instances like these give us pause, as the horrific results of exponential use in the international jurisdictions is not a development we would wish to see in Barbados.
New Psychoactive Substances
The international drug scene is constantly evolving and of particular concern are New Psychoactive Substances (NPS). NPS are a range of drugs that have been designed to mimic established illicit drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. They are ‘new’ to the market and are not controlled by the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The intention is to create a “legal high”. Therefore, manufacturers are constantly developing new chemicals to replace substances that are controlled by law.
According to ‘Current NPS Threats Volume 2’, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (January, 2020), “120 countries and territories have reported the emergence of a cumulative total 950 individual NPS belonging primarily to six groups based on their mode of action, i.e. classic hallucinogens, dissociatives, sedatives, hypnotics, stimulants, synthetics cannabinoid receptor agonists and synthetic opioids.”
While there are no statistics, from BARDIN or otherwise, to indicate the presence of New Psychoactive Substances in Barbados, the NCSA is aware of anecdotal reports which suggest the presence of drugs within this category, such as synthetic marijuana (K2, Spice). Similarly, anecdotal reports are also suggesting the use of Lean among the youth. Though not a New Psychoactive Substance, this cough-syrup based mixture can have dangerous effects.
Quoting from an article entitled ‘Caribbean leaders concerned about substance abuse among youth’ published in the Jamaica Observer (dated February 22, 2020), the former Chairman of (CARICOM), The Honorable Mia Amor Mottley, Q.C., M.P., stated, “the recreational drug Lean, also known as purple drank, is being used among young people in Barbados. Lean originated in the United States, it can cause seizures and addiction.” The Prime Minister went on to say “this is perhaps one of the worst things that is happening throughout the region. It's one of the negative things that they have taken up from, as we would say, over and away. And regrettably, too many of our young children are using it, and using it, makes them go into being a different person. The level of sugar, I'm told, when going into the bloodstream combined with the codeine and other things, is having a deleterious impact and in some instances, people don't even remember what they were doing when they were high.
Given its potential for danger, the NCSA has been closely monitoring Lean and included it in the recently concluded 2020 National Primary School Survey. We can take comfort in the fact that very few Primary School students have used the substance and most do not know what it is.
Early Warning Systems
In an effort to monitor the developments surrounding non-traditional drugs in Barbados, the NCSA will be buttressing the data collection and information sharing capacity of BARDIN with the implementation of an Early Warning System (EWS). Many of you here are already aware of this initiative, which is in the early stages of development, as your departments will form part of the system. Once in place, the EWS will allow for the early detection of new drugs in Barbados as well as swift information sharing so as to ensure timely responses to emerging trends.
The bottom line is that information sharing is key to an effective and evidence-based response to the national drug situation. I therefore urge you all to make the most of today’s session as it provides you with an excellent opportunity to learn about emerging drug trends as well as share experiences from within your own departments and countries.
That said, I wish you all a good and productive session and I look forward to a report on the day’s presentations and discussions.