Is the ecstasy ‘monster’ still stalking our schools?

Last September, the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) made what, at the time was held in some quarters to be a somewhat surprising disclosure that the ‘recreational’ drug ecstasy (surely a misapplied terminology) was being distributed in five local schools. The disclosure was more or less laughed off by teachers and students in the school community, amused, it seemed, not only that the authorities were only, at that time, discovering that ecstasy was being used by schoolchildren on school premises but that CANU’s investigations appeared to confine the use of the drug to just ‘five’ schools in and relatively close to the capital.

At that time and while they had promised an investigation, CANU had conceded that locating the suppliers would be a difficult task and that, it seems, is exactly what it has been. Our very recent information being that not a great deal of headway has been made by the authorities in getting to ‘the bottom’ of the use of the drug in the school system.

Since that time our occasional discourses with both teachers and students had revealed, first, that the ‘five schools’ disclosure by CANU had not only done no more than expose its limited knowledge of the extent of the ecstasy ‘ring’ in the school system but that the link between the drug and the wider school system was a fairly sophisticated arrangement that involved substantive drug dealers who were well-connected inside the school system.

 Between September last year and this time nothing has happened to suggest that the ‘five schools’ theory has been tested beyond those boundaries and certainly CANU has not made a definitive declaration as to whether or not the aforementioned ecstasy ring still persists. However, our discourses with a few teachers and several students  both inside and outside CANU’s ‘five schools-circle’ suggest that the circulation of the drug is still fashionable and that there may even have been some instances in which subsequent discoveries have been kept quiet.

 Ecstasy is widely available at local night clubs and other youth entertainment circles and we have even been told that the potency of the drug has caused it to be pressed into widespread service as a ‘date rape’ device. Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan is himself on record as conceding “the increasing demand” for ecstasy among schoolchildren and young adults.

 One might have thought that the efforts of CANU and the various other law enforcement agencies aside, that it would have been more than useful for the Ministry of Education to engage teachers towards the end of creating enforceable protocols that might at least make it more difficult for drugs to become embedded in the school system. Here, it has to be said that the ready access to narcotics by young people in the wider society, while rendering an initiative of this kind a considerable challenge, makes it all the more important that a serious attempt be made to secure our schools. As it happens, and while the introduction of stricter anti-drugs security protocols in schools might well raise public eyebrows and perhaps even elicit a level of parent protest, from all that this newspaper has been hearing, delaying the introduction of such protocols is occurring at the expense of ecstasy (and other narcotics) being further embedded in the school system.

 As one teacher told this newspaper just a few days ago “the problem is that we assume that detecting and breaking up drug rings in schools is as easy as catching a clumsy examination cheat.” In dismissing this notion, that teacher told us that, unfortunately, there was the considerable likelihood that children at the centre of drug rings in schools are “trained by professionals. These are not fifteen and sixteen year olds of twenty-five years ago and there is nothing in our training as teachers that helps us to determine what they might be up to. Sometimes we may have our suspicions but then there are other distractions that have to do with teaching,” we were told. 

 Over time, we have found too, that the Ministry of Education appears to have decided not to adopt a particularly impressive (pro-active) policy on drug use in schools, preferring, it seems, to say as little as it can about the problem and to treat instances like the distribution of ecstasy in schools as though these were purely ‘police matters.’ Our feedback from the teachers to whom we have spoken has been that there continues to be no serious attempt to engage teachers on the issue of how they might detect and tactfully deter the circulation and use of drugs in schools. We believe that a point has long been reached where, whether in the substantive school system or at the level of teacher training institutions, a structured programme designed to raise awareness of drugs in schools and how best to respond to the challenges associated therewith simply must be introduced.

 The Ministry might, in its defence, point to its    “Ecstasy: What Parents need to know” notice that appears on the internet though anyone perusing the document is almost certain to conclude that it fails to speak to the issue of raising awareness of the presence of drugs in schools and proffering deliberate and structured responses thereto.

 Readers may well recall the establishment (within the then Ministry of Home Affairs) in 2006 of the Guyana Drug Information Network with the assistance of the Inter-American Observatory on Drugs (OID), Inter-American Drug Control Commission (CICAD)/ Organization of American States (OAS). That initiative, we were told, had led to the creation of a Network designed to enable the sharing and assessment of drug related information on, among other things,  the level of drug use among students in schools across the country in Grades 8,10,11 and 12, in both private and public schools. Nothing has been heard of the work of this institution since that time.

This newspaper’s own admittedly limited recent ‘investigations’ have led it to the conclusion that the myriad ‘distractions’ associated with the various other aspects of education may have served to crowd out a focus on drug detection and deterrence in schools and that this may have resulted, in large measure, from a failure, over the years, to seek to infuse into teachers and education administrators the reality that monitoring for drug use is every inch as central to their jobs as their routine classroom pursuits. (Here we restate the point made earlier about the need for sensitization and training for teachers). This point is being made against our belief, based on recent discourses with a number of both teachers and students) that the use of ecstasy (and other drugs) in schools persists and that the ‘trade’ has learnt to ‘protect’ itself and perhaps, more importantly, that the official decibel level in response to the discovery of drug use in the school system is usually not backed by any corresponding corrective action and that all that it has to do in response is to ‘wait out’ that official commotion  which is backed by no structured and sustained response but rather, comes and goes like chaff in the wind, before it surfaces again.    

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