Creating healthy schools with drug prevention

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THE National Council on Substance Abuse, Corner, 1st Avenue Belleville and Pine Road, St Michael. (GP)

The following is a submission by the National Council on Substance Abuse to mark Drug Awareness Month.

The National Council On Substance Abuse (NCSA) provides a variety of age and culturally appropriate universal interventions for school aged audiences at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

For the youngest audiences, the focus is on keeping safe around things they may find in their home environment. This includes exploring the steps to taking medication safely, and recognising warning signs and symbols that can be found on packages that contain unknown substances. Children are also reminded that drugs such as alcohol and tobacco products are for adult use only.

As children progress through primary school, the content of the drug education intervention adjusts to match their developmental stage. Greater attention is given to their capacity to make choices and the need for good decisionmaking skills. A similar approach pertains at the secondary school level, where the interventions focus more intensely on common drugs, their effects and the social consequences of their use.

School interventions at the primary and secondary levels are supported through partnerships with organisations which meet with this audience, outside of regular school hours, such as the Barbados Boy Scouts Association, Girl Guides Association of Barbados, the Barbados Cadet Corps and various sporting groups.

Tertiary level programme content includes recreational drug use, risky situations, drug policy and legislation. This information is shared formally through taught courses and informally in partnership with social or awareness groups at the institutions.

All of the aforementioned school-based interventions are categorised as universal, meaning that the information shared is generally beneficial to the entire audience. Universal drug prevention education at schools can go a long way towards reducing the associated stigma as everyone receives the same education.

There is need, however, for interventions with selected groups within the school population, who are considered to be at a higher risk level than that of the general audience – for example, those who have been identified as having developmental, educational or behavioural challenges.

The primary objective of substance use prevention is to help people, particularly young people, avoid or delay the initiation of psychoactive substances or if they have already started to avoid the development of disorders. Our counselling service is often utilised by those of school-age, with referrals made by parents, schools or the juvenile court systems. Counselling may be provided via individual, family and group therapy.

Throughout Drug Awareness Month 2024, the NCSA is encouraging schools to demonstrate their commitment to drug prevention through two interschool contests. The Strengthening Prevention – Learn Well, Play Well creative competition is an opportunity for students, staff, parents and members of the school community to come together through a creative showcase supporting drug prevention and the health of our nation.

Participants are required to mount displays which promote healthy alternatives to drug use, encourages children to participate in extracurricular activities and features the school colours and motto.

The second competition is open only to fourth and fifth form students in partnership with Toastmasters International. The goal of the Secondary School Speech Contest is to create behavioural changes surrounding substance abuse by:

• Giving students a platform to inform and influence substance use prevention interventions.

• Equipping students with effective communication skills using the art of public speaking.

• Developing an appreciation for research specific to substance abuse.

As we move into a new year, charged to strengthen prevention, the NCSA recognises the need to continuously challenge ourselves to reach more students, schools and communities. We acknowledge that we must persist in our efforts to monitor and evaluate the current situation in schools as it relates to drugs, in order to provide the appropriate evidence-based responses. We will strive to provide more assistance for teachers, by increasing access to prevention related classroom resources.

We will continue to support our schools as we endeavour to improve the health and well-being of students, staff, families and by extension, our nation.

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