JM | Nov 23, 2022

NCDA details Government’s plans to tackle substance abuse in schools

Tamoy Ashman

Tamoy Ashman / Our Today


Amid the recent increase in substance use among students, the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) has detailed the measures to be implemented by the Government to tackle drug abuse.

Based on a rapid assessment study conducted in partnership between the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Ministry of Education and Youth, Molly, vapes and edibles were identified as the three main drugs being used.

At the time of the announcement, on September 1 this year, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, the NCDA and the Ministry of Education had all indicated that they would implement policies to reduce drugs use among students.

Uki Atkinson, research analyst at the National Council on Drug Abuse

Our Today spoke with Uki Atkinson, research analyst from the NCDA, who shared that an holistic approach is being taken to tackle the issue.

“It is very much a multifaceted approach because you cannot do one thing to address this growing problem, because it is multifaceted,” said Atkinson.

She added that, in addition to the ministries of education and health, students, parents, guidance counsellors and deans of discipline will all collaborate on the measures listed below.

Legislative approach

Atkinson shared with Our Today that there is currently a debate in Parliament to update the Tobacco Control Regulations.

“This is not tied to the rapid assessment or as a result of it. This is something that was going on prior to the assessment,” she clarified.

Atkinson shared that the updated regulations for the Tobacco Control Act will speak directly to the sale of tobacco products, especially the sale of vaping products to minors.

“From the rapid assessment, a number of students were talking about the ease with which they were able to go into these establishments and buy a vape product, even in their uniform,” she noted.

A harmful alcohol use policy is also on the horizon, shared Atkinson, which will address access of substances like Molly and vape pens to students.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has also pledged to update the Dangerous Drugs Act to include the new psycho-active substances that are emerging around the world.

Atkinson also noted that the United Nations “within the past year have reported over 1,000 new psycho- active substances, which poses a difficulty for legislation,” because new drugs are constantly surfacing.

As such, the updated legislation will be crafted with this in mind, said Atkinson.

Partnership with Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education is also working on creating a standardised approach to discipline students who use or sell the substances on the school compound.

Under the guidelines on addressing substance use in secondary schools, there are policies that address drug use, but they need to be updated to reflect the current reality, said Atkinson.

“Some of the measures that are being applied by schools are not necessarily standard. What they are doing is what they deem to be best based on the circumstance. So, there is need for a standardised approach,” she clarified.

In keeping with the Government’s holistic approach to fighting drug abuse, students, teachers, guidance counselors and deans of disciplines will be asked to suggest strategies that can be implemented.

Health and family life teachers, deans of disciplines and guidance counselors are also being trained to identify when a student is using or selling drugs and how to approach the situation.

So far, 96 deans of disciplines from across the island have been trained in this area.

Other policies being implemented

Atkinson listed other policies that the Government is undertaking to tackle the issue of substance abuse.

She added that she was grateful that the necessary partnerships are there with key ministry areas such as education, which show the willingness to collectively address the issue.

“So far we are pleased at where we are at with the measures and the momentum of things,” she noted, adding that NCDA has been instrumental in putting forward strategies that are accepted and will be used.

Other strategies listed by Atkinson are:

  • Regional Townhall meetings with schools and ministry leaders
  • School tours across the island to educate students on the effects of drug use and abuse
  • A national drug prevalence survey among Jamaicans 12- 65 years old to start in January. A partnership with the Center for leadership and Governance at the University of the West, Indies and the Inter-American drug abuse control commission.
  • Partnership with the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization will also see 36 schools in St Catherine being surveyed about students’ drug use.
  • Community interventions will also be put in place, to reach parents who are not actively involved in their children’s school or personal life.


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