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Last week Jacinta Bannis, the head of Government's Drug Abuse Prevention Unit raised the alarm about the high level of abuse of alcohol among secondary school children on the island.

Ms Bannis said that according to a survey alcohol is the most used drug by secondary school students and that this was a worrying aspect of the fight against drug abuse. She added that though there are laws to regulate the sale of alcohol to minors the laws are not enforced.

"Some of them start very early. Some start at 12 years and we have to do something to reduce the demand for the substance. You can walk into any community and purchase alcohol…my concern is for the students between the ages of 12 and 18," Ms Bannis said.

But the problem of the widespread sale of alcohol to minors has been discussed in Dominica again and again. We keep talking and have been doing so for decades.

For instance, in January 1998, i.e. 17 years ago, the Sun Newspaper reported that the buying of alcohol to students was as simple as ABC. We demonstrated the accuracy of that opinion to ourselves by sending a minor to purchase a bottle of Appleton rum in a store in Roseau.

That was the subject of a front page story excerpts of which we reproduce here:

"Scare tactics have been and continue to be used by schools in an effort to keep young people away from drugs; however, in their attempts to frighten the youth off drugs such as crack, cocaine and marijuana, the majority overlook the very obvious fact that alcohol is a drug.

A teenaged boy told The Sun: "The adults in Dominica are just hypocrites, they call hail and brimstones down on you if they even think 'you know what marijuana smells like, but when they stand in front of you, they can almost get you drunk just by their breath".

This teenager said he is particularly pissed off because "they only pretend to care about the young people".

To prove his point he boasted that he could walk into any shop or supermarket and buy a bottle of liquor, and he did "to make sure a grownup saw me, I asked, a lady who work in the supermarket where I could find Appleton Rum and the lady did not even ask me who I was buying it for. She pointed it out and I bought it. Not even the cashier said anything about it. I guess it must be company law not to discourage young people from buying alcohol otherwise they will get fired," the young boy said.

The problem of alcohol being sold to children has been discussed by high-level Government officials as recently as last year (1997) at the National Symposium here on the Rights of the Child; and they all promised to look into and ensure the enforcement of existing legislation which prohibit the sale of alcohol to children, among other things.

In the Revised Edition of "The Chance to Grow: Education in the Campaign Against Drug Abuse" experts such as Francisco Batista, Psychiatrist and former President of the Association of Child and Adolescent psychology and psychiatry and Myles j. Doherty, Program Manager, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Education Programme (US Department of Education), note that "if we cannot change a nation's way of viewing alcohol, we are going to have much less success with the cocaine problem."

"Look at (name withheld), he is only 14 years old and already he gets by our precious law with nobody caring a @!x*@. Who are the adults trying to fool? They need us to help solve this problem, yet they treat us like dirt," said a frustrated 12-year-old girl (secondary school).

Resident Psychiatrist Dr. Davendra Sharma in a previous interview maintained that "the need to adapt to new norms, situations and values causes emotional instability in the individual and in society, and therefore promotes drug dependency as a means to escape changes that cannot be absorbed or assimilated.

He said "we have made alcohol expensive by making it difficult to produce and circulate. The availability of alcohol in Dominica is one of the most important social factors because there is a direct link between alcohol dependency and the presence of alcohol here."

Dr. Sharma told the Sun he is particularly concerned about "the prevalence of alcohol among teenagers in secondary schools. There is more teenage alcohol dependency than people are willing to admit."

That is the end of the Sun's article published 17 years ago.

In the meantime, the Dominican society is continuously being shocked by the high levels and senseless violence among the youth and we have not made the link between the abuse of alcohol and youth violence.

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that alcohol use and abuse are risk factors both for being victimized and perpetrating youth violence.

"Youth violence takes many forms including bullying, gang violence, sexual aggression, and assaults occurring in streets, bars and nightclubs", the WHO says in the document WHO Facts…Youth Violence and Alcohol. "The victims and perpetrators alike are young people, and the consequences of youth violence can be devastating".

The report concluded: "The impact of youth violence reaches all sectors of society, placing huge strains on public services and damaging communities. Reducing harmful alcohol use and violence among young people should thus be considered a priority for policy makers".

We may be accused of being cynical but we anticipate that we will be talking about alcohol abuse among secondary students for the next decade. And , as usual, we will do nothing much about it.


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