Guyana: MoH commemorates International Day against Illicit Trafficking and Drug Abuse

Guyana: MoH commemorates International Day against Illicit Trafficking and Drug Abuse

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Georgetown, Guyana: To commemorate International Day against Illicit Trafficking and Drug Abuse, the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) Drug Demand Reduction Unit (DDR), in collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Judicial System, hosted an observance ceremony at the Hermandston Lodge, Queenstown on June 26, 2023 (Monday).

As per the details shared by the Ministry, this ceremony was organised to raise awareness of the impact of drug abuse on persons and society and was observed under the theme, “People first: stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention”.

Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, delivered the remarks during the event. He stated that the MoH is looking to incorporate a programme within the schools that can assist students’ behaviour modification when it comes to drug use. He pointed out that behaviour modification does not only come with raising awareness on issues, but it also comes with practice.

“Raising awareness alone does not change behaviour. Behaviour modification comes in a different way apart from raising the value of education. You also have to practice, and that is more important. A lot of time, we raise awareness, and these programs fail because we have not gone through the cycle of inculcating what they’ve learned into that change we want to see in them”, Dr Anthony explained.

The Health Minister further stated that school dropouts might be more vulnerable to drug use and, as such more need to be done to help them not turn to these Illicit drugs but to get a second chance at education and learn practical skills.

Minister Anthony also emphasised the need for more programmes geared at treating persons with addictions, even though primary health care services are available throughout the regions.

In closing, Dr Anthony announced the Ministry’s plans to set up a long-term Rehabilitation programme for drug use patients. “Within the next two years two, we will be working on setting up such a programme (long-term Rehabilitation) within the Ministry’s Mental Health Programme. I think drug use is a problem we have to confront, and the only way we have to do this is to make sure that the services we are providing would be comprehensive”, he said.

Meanwhile, PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr Luis Felipe Codina, stated that PAHO/WHO is pleased to be partnering with the MoH and other agencies to help combat the use of drugs.

He highlighted that within the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Report 2022, in most countries around the world, the demand for cocaine use is high, and as a strategy to eradicate this, some countries reach out to their farmers and plead with them to plant other crops instead of the Coca Bush.

“Cocaine today is in a high-level market and booming all around the world, and there’s a strategy some countries are utilising to substitute the bush of coca. They are talking with the farmers to not plant the coca bush but instead plant sugarcane and so forth. These kinds of substitution are not working well; in some places, they are, but in others, no. Why, because the dealer goes directly to the farmers and pays in advance for the year”, Dr Codina stated.

Dr Codina further emphasised the need for governments to implement more creative strategies and policies that will help the farmers combat and eradicate the cocaine dealers that push for coca production.

As per the update shared by the Ministry of Health, the Project Lead of the DDR Unit, Dr Travis Freeman, indicated that over the past few years, the Drug Demand Reduction Unit has been able to provide patients with non-residential, residential and outpatient services support.

According to Dr Freeman, the Unit has also been able to establish pilot sites that offer free services to persons in need beyond regular working hours.

“The pilot sites are being done at the Georgetown Public Health Corporation, the Drug Demand Unit in the Mental Health compound and the West Demerara Regional Hospital. These extended hours have been going on for about three to four months, and we have seen almost 80 patients and had almost 300 sessions with clients and relatives”, Dr Freeman said.

In explaining the functions of the Unit, Dr Freeman stated that the MOH was able to establish a comprehensive package of services that not only address substance abuse but also address individuals holistically.

“Over the past year, we have developed a comprehensive package of services. We were dealing with people that were deferred for treatment services, and that only addressed the substance. But we have to address all the other things, like psychology and social aspects. So our program now is geared to address the individual holistically, likewise, the prevention initiative, which is more age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and gender-inclusive”, Dr Freeman explained.

Dr Freeman also mentioned that the Unit has started to provide capacity-building workshops within the regions that address drug use and mental health patients that may be faced with discrimination and stigma whiles trying to access services.

Meanwhile, Director of Non-Communicable Diseases, Dr Lachmie Lall, highlighted that more than 284,000,000 persons are indulging in drug use and that it is more than just the MoH and its partners to help with treatment and Rehabilitation.

“Currently, we have over two hundred and eighty-four million persons between the ages of 15 to 64 years that are currently using Illicit substances. And so we know it’s not just the responsibility of the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Home Affairs to get these persons off the streets and to get persons into treatment and Rehabilitation, but it’s also the responsibility of every other factor in society”, Dr Lall stated.

Further, she added that the MoH has since been conducting school sensitisation within the regions, and they were also able to move from just two clinics that are operating as Rehabilitation and Drug treatment services to eight.

The ceremony was attended by Magistrate Rhondel Weever, Head of Guyana Drug Information Network (GUYDIN), Ministry of Home Affairs, Kurt Richards; Drug Abusers Testimonials; among other staff from the Ministry of Health.