Use of drugs in schools making society less safe

February 20, 2013 - All News

Alcohol, high-caffeine energy drinks, cannabis and cigarettes are high in demand among students; doda is very popular in Brampton
Staff Writer
Drugs, guns, gangs and consistently increasing violence have become part of the GTA, the region that was once among the world’s top safest cities.
Today the GTA’s streets are less safe, youth are more vulnerable than ever and at higher risk of being caught up in drugs, sex, gangs and other filthy activities.
Though each person sees the issue differently, all have a consensus that drugs and gangs exist within our schools.
“If you want marijuana, you should drive to any high school. It’s available in most schools,” Davis Mitchell, divisional coordinator of Youth Justice Service at the West Scarborough Neighbourhood Community Centre, and manager of Got2Change, a program funded by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Scarborough, told SAF. “It (marijuana) is a drug which is in high demand and easily available in schools.”
Despite repeated requests, there was no comment from Toronto District School Board.
Anthony Hutchinson, a national qualified gang expert, blamed “Canada’s multi-culture system for generating confusion because the ‘hyphenated culture’ creates gaps among the kids and thus results in frustration and disappointment”.
A study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) titled ‘Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS)’ shows that alcohol, high-caffeine energy drinks, cannabis and cigarettes are high in demand among students.
In the study — the longest ever ongoing school survey of adolescents in Canada, which is based on 18 survey cycles conducted every two years since 1977 — some 9,288 students of Grade 7 to 12 from 40 participating school boards took part in 2011.
Estimating for lifetime drug use, the survey’s figures in 2011 show that 58.6 per cent students have ever consumed it with 54.9 per cent in the past 12 months, excluding those who just tried it.
Cannabis is one of the common illicit drugs with 26 per cent lifetime usage followed by cigarettes with 21.9 per cent.
The non-medical (NM) use of prescription opioid pain relievers such as codeine, Percocet, Percodan, Dermerol or Tyleno, are also very common with more than 16 per cent usage.
RAID program
“Our board serves more than 155,000 students and within such a big number (in any population), there is always a chance of a small number of those who make choices that are unhealthy or inappropriate,” said Beth Veale, schools support officer at the Peel District School Board. “But PDSB always focuses on schools being safe, positive and more engaging. We always pay attention to things or behaviors that can have positive or negative impacts,” said Veale.
“If we are ever aware of any inappropriate choice, we address that accordingly.”
Both the PDSB and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board work closely in partnership with Peel Regional Police to deal with issues related to abuse of drugs in schools.
Under RAID (Reduce Abuse in Drugs) program, police education officers visit schools, upon request, and deliver lectures to educate youth and spread awareness, informed Veale.
The RAID program helps students identify different categories of drugs, depressants and how these drugs can affect the human body and what consequences their use may have.
It also provides strategies to deal with various situations associated with the use of drugs.
Parents shy away
“Asians, South Asians and in fact all parents are caught up in it. They don’t recognize that all kids are exposed to issues like bullying, gangs and drugs,” said Mitchell. “In most cases, parents, especially South Asians, know that there is an issue but they tend to shy away from it… this leads to more dangerous situations.”
Mitchell said mental health has become a major concern for immigrants from Tamil, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indonesian backgrounds and they are now beginning to realize that kids are getting involved in illegal activities — sometimes in the drug industry and sometimes in gangs or sex.
“It is dangerous because actually it may lead to the next level,” warns Mitchell. “And let me tell you it’s not just the boys, girls are as bad as boys… they are also getting involved in it.”
Filthy motivation
According to Mitchell a variety of stress related issues are the core cause and now many young South Asians have gone from smoking to taking marijuana to drinking alcohol.
“It was a time when South Asians would drink more than smoking but now they have gone one step further to marijuana.
“If you want marijuana, you should drive to any high school. It’s available in most schools. It (marijuana) is a drug which is in high demand and easily available in schools,”
Mitchell said.
The use of drugs motivates students to skip schools, have sex, drink alcohol and get involved in gang culture, said Mitchell.
He said peer pressure is one of the factors of stress for kids because some parents do not allow young children to make their own choices.
“We have parents who have almost imprisoned their children in their own homes while many girls are not allowed to go alone on transit buses on their own. It is a little weird in Canadian culture.
“But when these children are allowed to be on their own, even for a very small amount of time, they go from one extreme to the other.
“There could be other reasons too… from boyfriends to bullying to cultural battles that they go through, could be from lack of understanding.”
Smoking not necessary for drugs
Mitchell said most people think only smokers can take drugs, but in reality this is not the case.
“Smoking or cigarette is not necessary for taking drugs. Anybody can take these drugs,” warned Mitchell, who heads the Got2Change program that helps people with mental health issues. “Take the example of marijuana, it can be taken with any food… muffins are very popular. A lot of young people in their 20s take it home and parents don’t have a clue.”
Explaining the causes behind the use of drugs, Anthony Hutchinson, who is also a consultant social worker at Peel Children’s Aid and department head and program chair in Human Services department at Tyndale University, Toronto, said ages from 12 to 18 are very critical because in this age everything — from hormones to the mindset — begins to shift. So kids want their own identity and acceptance in society.
“This is the time when they become very vulnerable,” said Hutchinson. “Most of the time ethnic parents want their kids to follow their religion or culture. They want them to become a doctor or engineer, but if the child’s mindset is different, he/she will begin to struggle a lot and feel frustration.”
Society blamed
Hutchinson holds our multi-culture society responsible for creating inter-generation disconnect and multi-layers of newcomers to Canada. He argues it creates risks and vulnerability factors.
“Under multiculturalism, we tend to get hyphenated Canadians such as South Asian-Canadian, African-Canadian, English-Canadian, European-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian. In a land of hyphenated people, kids want to be just ‘Canadian’.
“Kids are frustrated, they want their own identity in schools. It also creates ethnic gangs,” said Hutchinson.
Recently, Safe City Mississauga, Brampton Safe City and Astwood Strategy Corp held the first partners meeting to develop a community assessment of youth violence in the Region of Peel.
The Department of Justice Canada provided $44,750 to Safe City Mississauga for a three-month project to support a community assessment of gangs in Peel Region. The core partners include Peel Regional Police, OPP, Peel District School Board, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, Region of Peel, City of Mississauga, Ministry of Children and Youth and United Way of Peel.
Ethnic gangs
“More than 60 per cent gangs in the GTA are along ethnic lines. Most brown gangs are from Sikh background; blacks gangs are from specific parts of the Caribbean. We also have white, Somali, Tamil and Latin gangs,” said Hutchinson, the Superior Court of Justice’s qualified gang expert as well as the only gang expert in Canada who is not a police officer.
“Kids take drugs when they feel emotional stress, but when they feel loss of power, they get into gangs to get back power. Similarly due to loss of identity and lack of social security, girls get into sex,” said Hutchinson.
He said there is a need to fix all these issues while preserving the integrity of religious, expression and all other rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Popular drugs
Breaking it down area-wise, Hutchinson said that in the GTA hashish, marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes and crack cocaine are some of the popular drugs, and youth take them differently in different areas.
“In cities like Oakville, Burlington, Richmond Hill, Markham or Thornhill where kids have more money, they take cocaine, but in area like Brampton, doda is very popular — even among adults,” said Hutchinson. “And on top of everything, they are also getting along with alcohol.”
Hutchinson said the most dangerous and the worst drugs are alcohol and cigarettes because they are widespread, easily available as well as socially acceptable in society — but alcohol is also the drug that causes the most deaths on the roads of Canada.
“Harmful drugs are those which are unacceptable like heroin or cocaine. Apart from the addictive aspect, these high-level drugs are also harmful in terms of economic hardship,” said Hutchinson. “To get these high-level drugs such as heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, the addictive person has to spend a lot of money.
“And to buy these drugs, people ultimately get involved in stealing, sex and other crimes to earn the money to feed their habit.”