I am pleased to address you at this meeting convened to highlight the much awaited, key findings from the National Primary School Survey 2020.
The national response to the local drug problem requires reliable and up-to-date information. Therefore, surveys, such as the one that you will hear, are important tools for policy making and programming as they provide an understanding of the drug situation, thereby enabling us to craft the most appropriate responses for specific populations.
Ensuring the appropriateness of our responses is especially important for the youth, as research has shown that drug use during adolescence is associated with a number of negative outcomes, including low educational attainment, involvement in crime and substance abuse disorders and they carry it into adulthood. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control has stated that the majority of adults meeting the criteria for a substance abuse disorder began using substances during their teen and early adult years. Adolescent substance use is also associated with risky sexual behaviours, including early sexual initiation, having multiple partners and not using condoms - all of which put our youth at risk for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancy.
Such negative outcomes can have a lifelong impact. It is therefore incumbent upon us to take every step to prevent the early onset of drug use; and findings such as those to be presented today can inform an evidence-based approach – which, of course, is the gold standard.
I understand that this National Primary School Survey is the third of its kind to be conducted in Barbados and was informed that the NCSA has adapted and modified its data collection instruments for each of the survey rounds thus far. This approach ensures the relevance of the surveys and has enabled the Council to address the critical issues at each point in time.
I am particularly intrigued by the inclusion of newer drugs during this round, such as Lean and E-cigarettes, as well as the inclusion of social determinants of drug use. The latter is particularly important as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is the lead federal agency supporting scientific research on drug use and its consequences in the United States of America, has recommended the inclusion of risk and protective factors in drug prevention programmes. They consider these to be essential targets for effective interventions within the family, school and community settings.
While preparing for today’s event, I discovered that school surveys across the world do not usually focus on students at this young age. Rather, they typically target secondary or high school students. Therefore, the NCSA is somewhat of a pioneer in this regard. In fact, I understand that, in 2012, Bermuda used the Barbados model to conduct the only other primary school survey in the region. As such, I wish to congratulate the Council for being a leader in this area and urge you to lend your expertise to other regional and international partners who may be interested in conducting similar surveys.
Before I close, I must say that the 2020 survey could not have come at a better time. As you know, the Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason, in her recent Throne Speech, announced Government’s intention to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This move will also see special repercussions for minors caught with the substance in their possession.
It will be important for us to assess the impact of this legislative change on the patterns of marijuana use and related issues within our society. To do so, we will need baseline measures for comparison; and the findings of this survey can serve as the necessary yard stick for the primary school population. Similarly, I encourage the NCSA to work with various stakeholders, such as those in the health, treatment and supply control sectors, to identify and gather other data which can be used for evaluation purposes.
I will now turn the floor back over to the presenters as I am eagerly looking forward to hearing the survey’s findings and learning about any emerging trends. That said, I wish you all a good and productive session.