Drunken teens worry drug council

Anti-drinking campaign to target summer parties

BY JANICE BUDD Associate Editor Sunday buddj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 10, 2012

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TEENAGERS hoping to go on a drinking binge at some of this summer's most popular all-inclusive parties could find these plans thwarted as the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) launches its campaign against underage drinking.


Daniel Brown, the NCDA's field officer for Kingston and St Andrew, said the agency has become increasingly alarmed at the number of young Jamaicans who are falling down drunk at parties.


The mounting problem registered a big blip on the agency's radar just a few months ago when undercover agents found teens as young as 13 were easily getting into soca parties and becoming severely intoxicated despite the legal age limit on the sale of liquor.


"Majority of them, you were stepping over youngsters who were drunk, passed out on the streetside," Brown said, pointing to the fact that signs about the legal drinking age being 18 years old were being displayed at the bar where the teens were freely buying alcohol.


"We received information that ecstasy and other drugs were being sold. But when we went to the event we realised that a large portion of the patrons were underage. Not only were they underage, but most of them entered without anybody asking them for any ID. Once inside, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes were readily available to them with no one asking if they were old enough to purchase them," said Brown.


It is these behaviours that the NCDA hopes to change with this summer's public education campaign against teen drinking. A national household survey done in 2006 showed that the majority of the young persons polled received 60 per cent of their alcohol and cigarettes while attending clubs and parties.


"We are trying to curb the youth doing this, especially the adolescent groups ages 13, 14. Because what we observed in April, a lot of police personnel were securing these parties, but there was nothing being done to enforce the laws that now exist," said Brown.


"We will be going to these events and setting up booths at some of these big all-inclusive summer parties to educate the youth about the dangers of alcoholic consumption at this age and also work along with the police to enforce the ID requirements to get into these parties," he said, adding that the legal age limit to purchase or drink alcohol is seldom enforced.


"I have been to these parties and never seen anybody turned away or checked if they were under the legal age to drink," Brown said, noting that alcohol abuse is directly associated with several negative physical and psychological consequences including unwanted pregnancy, motor vehicle accidents, date rape and violence.


"A female from the university was raped recently because of what is called a date-rape drug. Back in the day it was called Spanish Fly, but these days these drugs are odourless and tasteless. These events are often all-inclusive, anyone can put something into your drink and knock you out for eight hours and you will never recall what has happened in those eight hours," Brown explained.


Also, he said, starting alcoholic drinking at an early age increases the risk of moving on to some stronger addictive substance later on.


The NCDA has said that its findings showed that alcohol is the most abused drug in the country. An estimated 666,000 persons in Jamaica have problems related to alcohol abuse, and over two-thirds of Jamaican adolescents have experimented with alcoholic beverages.


Findings from the National School Survey (2006) show an eight per cent increase in adolescent alcohol use over the last 20 years.


On January 21 this year, the council reported that its research over the 30 days prior to that date revealed that four out of 10 teens had consumed alcohol over the period, while five out of 10 adolescents had a drink or two over the course of 2011, and seven out of seven teens surveyed had tried alcohol in their lifetime.


In the 2010 Global School-based health survey, 57.8 per cent of all male students, and 47.1 per cent of all 13 to 15-year-old female students had at least one drink containing alcohol on one or more of the 30 days of the study.


Among students who had a drink of alcohol (other than a few sips), the percentage who had their first drink of alcohol before age 14 was 80.2 per cent — 84 per cent being male and 74 per cent being female.


The survey also showed that 35.3 per cent of students had drank so much alcohol over the 30-day period that they were really drunk one or more times during their life, the majority, or 43.5 per cent, being boys, while girls who fell into this category amounted to 27 per cent.


Marketing and advertisements, the NCDA also argues, prime adolescents for a point later in their lives when alcohol becomes legally available to them and drinking is reinforced by other societal factors. The NCDA conducted a billboard survey in February 2008 to determine the content of this medium and the appeal strategies employed by advertisers. One hundred and forty-four small, medium and large billboards along the main corridors across Jamaica were surveyed for messages and images.


The survey found that brands of beer (46 per cent) were most highly advertised, followed by rum (21 per cent) and wine (four per cent). The actors were young adults and the language used "connoted real living, adult entertainment and stamina. The boards were found in close proximity to homes, playfields and schools respectively", said the NCDA on its website.


"Most of these teenyboppers are the ones really spending the money, and these promoters care about that, rather than the safety of the child," Brown said. "We would like some more emphasis to be placed on the protection of our children,"


Not so, say event promoters who told the Sunday Observer that they have a difficulty policing parties because patrons look much older than they are and have no identification cards.


"It's a great idea, and we fully support this education campaign," said PJ Wright of Dream Entertainment, promoters of the wildly popular Dream Weekends summer parties.


He said that most promoters would love to be fully compliant with the age limit on drinking, but have no way of telling their underage patrons apart from the adults.


"Ultimately these are our customers, and we are not looking for our customers to get drunk or get into trouble or into accidents, especially if they are underage. But our main challenge is validation of age because we don't have a proper carding system," he said.


Wright was referencing drinking age limits in the US and other countries where everyone is issued an identification card proclaiming them an adult once they hit the age where they can legally drive and be served alcohol. 'Carding' requires that patrons at an age-restricted event, or those who are purchasing alcohol, show their IDs as proof they are over the legal age limit.


Aside from this, one promoter said, "it is not within our culture to enforce any age limit on drinking". He pointed the fact that even the very young Jamaican child is rarely, if ever, turned away from bars or clubs where alcohol is being served to them and it is not uncommon for adults to send young children to bars to purchase liquor for them. No one is going to ask for proof of age before collecting on a bar tab.


This drinking problem among Jamaican teens has always been an issue for schools, however increasingly students are sneaking alcohol to school, said Brown.


Counselling Psychologist Ann Richards said she is aware of uncontrolled behaviour among female high school students who wind up pregnant. She feels parents have become too passive regarding their children's behaviour.


"Parents do not have any form of parental training, as the saying goes. A number of persons will be trained in various fields, but how many parents are actually trained for the job of parenting?


"Some of the parents are really young as well and wind up attending the same functions as their children," she added.


She also placed some responsibility at the feet of the drink manufacturers and marketing companies which are trying to get their products sold and are targeting younger and younger audiences.


"They need to be held responsible for what they are doing, the forum [in which] they are marketing their products and, apart from that, parents need to be held responsible for safeguarding their children. So there are various stakeholders who need to be more involved," Richards said.


Head of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences (CISOCA), Superintendent Gladys Brown-Campbell, said her concern is that too many young girls are unaware of how dangerous it is to drink at these parties and lower their inhibitions under circumstances where it is so easy to slip them drugs.


"A new trend is to be given free cake that has been spiked and suddenly these girls find themselves unable to keep on their clothes and are unaware of their behaviour," she said.


She acknowledged that it is difficult for security teams to check the ages of young patrons.


"These teenagers look much older than they are. Everyone takes it for granted that you can't go to party unless you are over 18. The teens are fully aware that they can trick adults. Asking them their age is not going to work," said Brown-Campbell.


She added that some of them cannot be controlled by their parents.


"You have kids who get up in the middle of the night, sneak out, take the car key. I know a case where a parent didn't know his child was out until the car wound up crashed into a wall."


She endorsed the NCDA's public awareness campaign.


"Sensitisation is the answer. Some children wind up naked and assaulted and don't even know how it happened. Young girls need to know that when you go to a party, this is something that can happen to you," Brown-Campbell said.


The Child Care and Protection Act (2004) prohibits any adult selling or giving alcohol and cigarettes to a child.


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