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Dealing with the changing drug landscape

By Kaelanne Jordan

Families in Action (FIA) has noted a “drastic change” in drug use, methods of use, and the age of introduction, observing that “people who are using start from very young”.

“Most of them might be conned into using and some of them, curiosity got the better of them. But the end result is the same, disaster,” said Vincent Best, FIA facilitator for the Substance Use/Misuse (SUM) programme.

FIA, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation was founded in the mid-1980s to address addiction issues in Trinidad and Tobago. Its services include a 24-hour helpline, addiction screening, in-person counselling, and community outreach, to name a few.

Speaking from their office at 4 Warner Street, Port of Spain, Best, a former smoker of 30 years, told The Catholic News that the changing drug landscape has made it much harder to detect substance use.

He recalled unlike in his time when it was “easy” to identify that “like he smoke last night…he look high,” today’s drugs and methods of use make it difficult for parents and significant others to detect drug use. “And if you cannot detect it, it makes it much more difficult to treat with it,” Best said.

Gerard Baptiste, Counselling Lead, added that when Best began working with FIA, the common drugs were cigarettes, cocaine, and marijuana. He emphasised that drug use has changed significantly over the past 35 years.

“Now we’re finding that the drugs you get on the market, a lot of them are produced in a lab. So, you’re getting all these designer drugs with nice names like zesser pills, all these kinds of things,” Baptiste said.

He spoke of drugs being infused into products. “So, I’m getting a lot of people presenting with brownies, mixed with wine. I’ve had cases where people have had cocaine placed in seasoning meat…gummies…suckabag…So we’re seeing all these novel ways…. Whereas in Best’s time, the gateway drug might have been cigarettes, now, children are going straight into marijuana, zesser pills, and ecstasy,” Baptiste said.

He noted that children as young as ten years have been admitted to St Ann’s for treatment. Baptiste pointed out that over 90 per cent of this age group take drugs “willingly” to be part of a group, to experiment because “they want to feel good,” or to cope with trauma, stress, difficulties functioning at school, or issues such as ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). A small percentage of these children took drugs “by mistake”.


A change in language

FIA is now on a campaign to educate society on substance use and highlight the importance of language. The FIA has renamed its Addiction Group programme to the Substance Use/Misuse Programme. Baptiste explained that a significant reason for this change was the language used.

He referred to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5, a book that guides FIA’s profession.

“What would have happened is years ago, when it first came out, substance use fell under a personality disorder. And therefore, the language followed suit. So, we talked about addiction and that sort of thing. As years of research went by, we found that it’s not a personality disorder, it’s a brain disease, and therefore they started to look critically at the treatment, how you’re treating people.

“Part of what is happening is that there’s a stigma attached to the word addict. So, whenever someone presents to us and I say, ‘you’re addicted to something,’ the response is ‘I’m not an addict. An addict is a person who’s on the street, who’s homeless, who’s smelling bad,’ that kind of thing and therefore very resistant to change,” Baptiste said.