Prevalence unclear but dealer says Molly demand on the rise
Director for the Safety and Security in Schools Unit at the Ministry of Education and Youth Richard Troupe (right) expresses concern about the emergence of these new forms of drugs among Jamaican youth. Executive director of the National Council on Drug Abuse, Michael Tucker and NCDA research analyst Uki Atkinson look on. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

While one dealer says the demand for Molly among schoolchildren continues to increase rapidly, with many being turned away with thousands of dollars, the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) says it does not know the prevalence among "schoolers" presently.

The council, however, said that from a rapid situation assessment done this year, the mood-altering drug was the most trendy substance among youngsters.

It's a trend that doesn't seem to be dying down any time soon, the dealer said.

"It is like a new student wanting to try Molly every day. And dem want more than one at a time. Sometimes you in parties and you see some young, young pickney come up to you a ask bout Molly. I tell the [Jamaica] Observer already that I don't sell students Molly because I know weh it can do, but a next man might not be as considerate as me," the dealer told the Sunday Observer in an interview last Tuesday.

The man said when students are turned away, they simply find another seller.

"That, or they get somebody else to buy it for them. They want Molly, so dem will do anything to get dem hands on it. It make you wonder wah kinda pickey ago go back a school when Christmas done… cause nuff a dem ago try it over the break," he went on.

The NCDA, in recognition of Drug Awareness Month, will be highlighting the theme 'Drug-free Lifestyle Trending'.

Uki Atkinson, research analyst at the NCDA told the Sunday Observer that the assessment done in May of this year "is not a quantitative study, so, in terms of prevalence, we do not have those figures right now. When we did that rapid assessment among 160 students in 13 parishes, what came out was unprecedented. Molly was alluded to as the most popular substance among their peers".

Atkinson, who was part of a panel of experts for the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, said the students were not asked about personal use.

"...Which is why we can't say it's prevalent or it's 50 per cent. We don't know the prevalence at this moment but will be able to know through the National Drug Prevalence Survey, coming next year, among 12 to 65-year-olds. That is a national, household-based survey. We do know that the traditional substances of alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis are still among us. It's not to say that we no longer have that use and it's not prevalent any more," she said.

The Government sounded the alarm on Molly usage in Jamaica last month, hinting at legislative action against users and dealers of the illegal drug.

A news release from the Office of the Prime Minister on Wednesday, October 5 said there ought to be laws to capture the threats of "psychoactive substances", like the mood-altering drug Molly, and hold traffickers accountable.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness learnt of the drug's prevalence across the island and the "increased use of psychoactive substances and its deviant effect on our youth" late last month when he chaired the monthly sitting of the National Security Council (NSC), where the NCDA presented its findings.

Two months prior, the Sunday Observer did an exposé on the growing use of Molly pills at parties through a series of stories and a video documentary entitled Molly Predicament.

The print and video productions featured health professionals from the Heart Institute of the Caribbean, the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica, and the South East Regional Health Authority, who warned that use of the drug poses serious threats to the heart and brain.

Michael Tucker, NCDA executive director, said substance misuse is not only a national problem, but one that is regional and international. Tucker said whenever there are consultations with regional and international partners there are similar challenges cited.

"We are especially focused on our young people because they are most at danger and most at risk for substance misuse. We have to also use an integrated approach, meaning that all the stakeholders are really present and concerned about quality of life of the population. And our young people in particular have to work together," he told the Sunday Observer.

"Many of us that have children must be very aware, and I hope that even going on from today, that there will be opportunities for us to speak occasionally about what is really happening."

Meanwhile, Atkinson said it is clear that in the post-pandemic era, or during the pandemic, drug use among youngsters proliferated while they were out of school.

"According to what we gathered in our rapid assessment, they were exposed to things that were possibly not exposed to on that kind of level while they were in regular school before the pandemic. In terms of the school setting, we do a number of studies in schools, including global school health surveys and National Secondary Schools surveys. The last one we conducted was in 2017, and the next one we're going to conduct is not going to be national in nature. It's going to be in 26 high schools in St Catherine. That starts early January."

Atkinson said only St Catherine schools will be surveyed because it is a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and is a model in four countries across the world.

"It is a baseline study, two years of intervention and then to look and see whether there was a difference. And it's not only looking at drug use. It's also looking at other health factors: physical activity, mental health, violence-related issues, and so on," she said.

Richard Troupe, acting director of the Ministry and Education's Safety and Security in Schools Unit, said there were several articles in mainstream media that have raised serious concern about the emergence of these new forms of drugs – Molly, edibles, vaping.

"We are guided by the technical expertise of the National Council on Drug Abuse. It is an issue that has been flagged by the National Council. We have already conceptualised a very comprehensive plan that will be rolled out in our school system. We know that young persons, especially at the secondary level, have very impressionable minds.

"We are aware that there are a number of popular artistes that glorify these substances and so, in that context, without knowing the prevalence, we think it's absolutely important that attention be paid to this matter."

Troupe added: "We have been seeing the videos. The fights in schools, we're seeing videos of children having sex in the classroom. We don't know if these actions are linked to the use of any of these substances. But I think that as a Ministry of Education we have to exercise due diligence, and so we value the partnership."

Troupe also noted that across the next six months there will be a "number of initiatives" that will target students and educators. These involve capacity-building training for deans of discipline, guidance counsellors, and human and family life education teachers, and the NCDA supporting the education ministry in revising its substance misuse policy.

"These new substances are not reflected in our policy document that we currently have. It is outdated and so we want to ensure that it is revised. We want to make sure that it is in soft copy so that it is accessible to every single member of staff," he said.

Molly, the street name for MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), is a popular rave drug used at nightclubs and music festivals to alter mood and perception, and can lead to severe consequences on the heart and the brain.
Romardo Lyons

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