By Marion Ali
Three out of every four teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 admitted they’ve tried drugs, a recent study by the University of Belize and the National Drug Abuse Control Council revealed.
Four hundred and fifty high school students participated in the survey, and a “staggering” amount told the researchers that they have tried illegal substances such as marijuana and crack cocaine.
Within the same age range, others say they have taken alcohol and cigarettes.
According to the study, girls are more likely to take cocaine than boys, but boys are more likely to experiment with cigarettes, marijuana and crack.
Researchers Doctor Jean Briceño-Perriott, principal investigator, psychologist and researcher at UB, Fermin Olivera, co-investigator at UB; and Esner Vellos, collaborator at the National Drug Abuse Control Council believe that drug use will affect students’ performance at school. In a worse-case-scenario, they may drop out of school completely.
The legal drug that is most used is alcohol while marijuana is the illegal one most used. On average, boys and girls have tried their first cigarette at the age of 12 and those who have taken their first illegal drug did so at age 14.
According to the survey, about 20 percent of third form students do not know of the dangers of taking tranquillizers, inhaling solvents, or consuming the drug called “ecstasy”.
Eight to 13 percent did not know of the dangers of any of the other drugs. Three to 10 percent believed that drug use is not harmful.
Notably, a large proportion of third year students believe that marijuana use is not harmful.
Living in an extended or blended family increased the risk for crack-use, while being female and living on the south side of Belize City increased the risk for using inhalants among third formers.
As recommendations, the researchers suggest that given that a proportion of students are not aware of the health risks that licit and illicit drugs pose, drug education should be introduced in the formal school curriculum within the first two years of high school. They also feel that relevant authorities need to enforce laws that regulate the sale of alcohol and cigarettes to minors and that relevant authorities need to enforce laws that regulate the selling of controlled drugs without prescriptions.
In addition, the surveyors recommend that relevant agencies such as NDACC and school authorities need to develop tailored responses for adolescents at-risk for drug use, and invest more resources in preventative strategies addressing health risks associated with adolescent drug and alcohol use, especially as these relates to binge drinking.
There is also a need to provide adolescent intervention programs, according to the experts, and these need to include early detection and primary care for adolescent users.