Increasing cases of substance abuse among young people is likely to be among matters discussed when Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders meet in Trinidad for their summit on crime.
CARICOM chairman and Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley pointed to the use of the recreational drug lean, also known as purple drank, among young people in Barbados.
Lean originated in the United States, and is a concoction of cough syrup, hard candy and soda. It can also cause seizures and addiction.
“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,” she said.
“And regrettably, too many of our young children are using it, and in using it, makes them go into being a different person. That the level of sugar, I’m told, when going into the blood stream 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,” Mottley added.
The Barbados Prime Minister also stressed that authorities need to work with parents in the region so they can recognise and address the threats to their children’s stability.
“Now at the end of the day a child who is high, a young person who is high and who is not in full control of their capacities, may end up doing something that they would not do if they were not. And if they have access to weapons, which regrettably are all too available in our societies today, then what they might have done 30 years ago with a rock or a piece of 2×3, they are now doing today with automatic weapons. And that is the insidious nature of what we’re confronting,” she said, adding that she learned about the trend from 11 and 12-year-olds.
“It is only going around in the last few weeks trying to understand what is happening, that you begin to recognise that this thing is a serious issue. And unlike other drugs that would bring you down, this one does even stranger things to the young people.
“And what can be more innocent than jolly ranchers and hard candy? Bad for you from a point of view of health, but we never associated it as a substance which when abused, could lead to all kinds of psychotropic behaviour and other types of activities that flow from drug abuse.”
Mottley’s concerns come as CARICOM leaders prepare to meet in Trinidad for a summit on the wave of crime and violence sweeping the region.
She stressed that the problem cannot be solved only through law enforcement, as it is part of “a broader societal problem that requires a societal solution of which the government is only but one of the players”.
“And we’re talking about not just how do you solve murders? We’re talking about how do you resolve violence and conflict within our families, within our communities, within our countries,” she noted.
As regional leaders consider possible solutions, Mottley pointed to the example of Bermuda, which adopted a home-grown, multi-sectoral approach to reducing criminal activity among young people.
“One that picks up those children who are being put out of school at 16 instead of leaving them on the street; one that looks at those families who are falling through the cracks; one that teaches our children how to be able to resolve conflict without wanting to resort to violence to be able to do so.
“But it is only going to happen when we do this according to scale. In order to transform the society, you need scale. And to that extent therefore, what the prime ministers and heads of government have agreed is that we need to bring everybody together; set a common mission and once we set that common mission, then each work their part to pursue and achieve that mission. And therefore it cannot be government alone,” Mottley said.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who has lead responsibility for crime, also told reporters that leaders will now treat the issue of crime and violent behaviour as a public health issue.
“It’s all well and good to be able to respond in a reactive way, but we will now look to focus in a proactive way; so we want to get to the root cause of this upsurge in sustained violent behaviour of our people.
“Experts are telling us that given the effect of this kind of behaviour it is now a public health issue and it ought to be looked at in that context,” Rowley said.