The number of teens now seeking treatment for marijuana addiction is at an alarming level, according to Chief Counsellor at the Salvation Army Amarnauth Persaud, who says that more families are coming forward for help.
Persaud said that for this year, eight teenagers, the youngest of whom is 14, have been admitted into the organisation’s six-month rehabilitation programme. This is the highest figure in years. Adult users occupy the remainder of the 25 spaces that are available for each of the live-in drug rehab programmes.
During a recent interview with Stabroek News, Persaud said that although there are no more spaces left, the centre is receiving telephone calls regularly from persons seeking to help teen users.
He also explained that some of the youth who are presently in the programme have acknowledged that they are using crack cocaine.
With a 14-year-old, two 15-year-olds, an 18-year-old and four 19—year-olds in the programme, Persaud said it is the first time he has seen so many youth users in the programme at one time. “It is quite alarming now. It is alarming because of the spread and use of marijuana in society,” he noted.
He also said the organisation has received a report about a 12-year-old being a drug addict. He said that to effectively deal with this situation, the Human Services Ministry may have to become involved. He said that based on the report they have received the child went to school, got wayward and is now a marijuana addict.
Persaud explained that after articles were published late last year about young marijuana users and some of the signs of use that should be looked for, calls started pouring in. He said that people from as far as Essequibo and Berbice have been calling the Salvation Army, seeking help with their children, who they have recognised to be drug users.
He said that at the moment the accommodation at the Salvation Army, Water Street, Georgetown location is overwhelmed but efforts are still being made to advise and assist persons who call.
Asked how this issue is going to be resolved, he said that the $16M subvention allocated by the government is yet to be received. He said that this money should have been used for rehabilitation work since last year. That money, he explained, could have been used to not only spruce up the building but also to build another block to accommodate more persons.
“That is in our plan to extend the classroom, which would be bigger so that we could accommodate 50 people,” he said while nothing that all of the resources, including counsellors and materials, are in place, while accommodation is the only challenge.
“People are willing to pay for their family members,” he noted.
Persaud said that at the moment they are working on acquiring a second vehicle to “go out and carry messages to the public in many areas.”
Meanwhile, he said that the teens in the programme are adapting well as they have all recognised that they have a problem and need help. “They themselves have expressed the desire to come here to the programme,” he said. He noted that teens who have passed through the programme have also gone out into their communities and told persons about their experiences.
Speaking about one of the programme’s success stories, he said that one of the teens who completed the programme had applied to join the army. “We don’t want to send them back out into society,” he said, while explaining that because of their ages, extension beyond the six-month period is necessary. It was explained that the teens are evaluated to determine whether an extension is needed. He said that if this is needed, it is first discussed with the family members. Persaud said that they have received calls in relation to females but they are referred to another location on the East Coast as the Salvation Army had no accommodation for females. He explained that these females are usually introduced to the drug by their partners and subsequently become addicted.
He told Stabroek News that at the end of the programme, they try as much as possible to help these teens by entering them into meaningful activities, such as computer classes, so as to allow them to be able to enhance themselves and to make a meaningful contribution to society.
According to him, there are also plans to have a computer lab at the centre but funds are needed to do this. He called on members of the public to assist in that regard, while adding that such a venture would be beneficial to those in the programme, especially the teens.
Persaud stressed that because the teens are so young every effort has to be made to fix the problem. “When the family members bring them here that is the best thing to do…you can’t keep them out there, you can’t do nothing with them but to bring them here,” he stressed. He added that families are discouraged from taking those who need help to psychiatrists since “that will damage them more.” In explaining the additional damage that could be done, he said that the users could become addicted to the drugs that would be prescribed to them.
Asked if the increase in teenage users creates a need for more collaboration with the ministries of Education and Human Services, Persaud responded in the affirmative. He said that the Salvation Army cannot face the fight alone, while adding that they have regular meetings with the Ministry of Health to report on their work, which includes their successes and the age groups of those who are enrolled in the programme. This information, he said, can be shared with the Ministry of Human Services to see what assistance could be given to not only the drug rehabilitation process but to the teenage users themselves.
He later explained that parents have told him that the money that they would give their children for lunch is going towards the purchase of marijuana. He said that signs of aggression in these young marijuana users are seen at home when parents try communicating with them.
Persaud said that this is all the more reason why marijuana use should not be tolerated in any form. He stressed that he does not agree with suggestions that it should be decriminalized, particularly to ease the burden on the judicial system and the prisons.