GUYANA, as is the case with a majority of other countries, continues to face and fight the problem of substance abuse among its citizens.
Sadly, that fight, in which the government is tasked with taking the lead, is necessary, as many Guyanese, particularly the youths, have fallen victim to the destructive habit of substance abuse. On the bright side, since the election to office of the APNU+AFC coalition administration in May 2015, Guyana has had a government that has not only stated its uncompromising commitment to fighting the scourge, but has demonstrated its resolve, through concrete actions, including the enactment of policy initiatives, and implementation of appropriate programmes.
While there is no universally-accepted definition of substance abuse, many would agree that substance abuse, more commonly known as drug abuse, is the habitual or patterned use of a drug or drugs in which the users use the substance in dangerous amounts, or by methods which are harmful to themselves or others. Another distinguishing characteristic is that the consumption of the substance is medically unnecessary or unrecommended.
Drugs are usually used in this manner to create an altered state of consciousness in the users for the purpose of producing sensations which are pleasing to them – what is known as a “high”. Drugs that cause that effect are said to be psychoactive. The altered state of mind, though, which is the initial motivator for drug use, may result in a frightening array of ills, including a variety of serious medical, social, economic, and other types of problems.
Drugs which are abused for their psychoactive properties are categorised by medical experts as stimulants which cause the user to feel excited and full of energy, depressants that produce a calming or sedative effect, or hallucinogens, which can distort the users’ perception of reality to the extent that they experience sensations that are not real. Drugs that are abused, such as cocaine, cannabis, heroin, and methamphetamine, are illegal. However, legal substances may also be abused. Alcohol, tobacco, the sleep-aid, valium, and the pain-killer, vicodin, are examples of frequently abused legal drugs.
Persons who abuse drugs may claim that their drug of choice helps them to function better. For example, the alcohol-using writer may say that drinking improves creativity; the valium-abusing bank-teller may believe that the drug helps him or her stay calm while interacting with rude customers; and the cocaine-dependent carpenter will probably tell you that the drug prevents him from feeling tired. Those sentiments are most often expressed by persons who have only recently started using a drug, and, indeed, drugs can have the apparent effect, at first, of improving the user’s performance of particular tasks, particularly in the areas of work or competitive sports. But, those seemingly positive effects do not last long.
Psychoactive drugs such as alcohol, the most abused drug in Guyana, cocaine, and tobacco cause physical changes in the brain of the user. After this occurs, the person can no longer function without the drug. At that point, the user has become the victim of drug-dependence or addiction. Getting more of the drug is the only thing that the victim can think about. He may lose his job, sell his possessions to fund his uncontrollable need for the drug, and he may lose his family. Such is the nature of substance abuse; it lures its victims into a seemingly beautiful place that turns out to be, in reality, a web of desperation and despair, from which there may be little chance of escape.
The APNU+AFC administration has made it clear that it understands the dangers posed by substance abuse, and recognises that preventing that and similar problems is better than curing them. Addressing the opening of the 2018 Health Expo at the National Exhibition Site on May 30, 2018, President David Granger said, “Prevention is particularly important when dealing with lifestyle diseases.
His Excellency asserted, “Alcohol and drug abuse are unhealthy, and a cure is expensive.” The president underscored where prevention should begin. He said: “It starts with you. It starts with mommy and daddy; it starts at the home. Prevention of lifestyle diseases is part of the human socialisation process. It begins in the home; in the family; in the household [and] it is reinforced at school and at work and it is fortified at the neighbourhood national and regional levels.”
Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, speaking at the launch of the Guyana Drug Information Network (DIN) in September of last year, explained that the health ministry has committed itself to increasing access to drug treatment across the country by training more professionals in the field. She elaborated that in accordance with the National Drug Strategy Master Plan (2016 – 2020), the government’s policy is a multifaceted, holistic approach to the issue. Minister Lawrence iterated a point first articulated by President Granger at the fifth anniversary of the Solomon’s Temple, located at Phillipi Village, East Berbice, Corentyne. The Minister noted that the government will work with non-governmental and faith-based organisations, and other entities to combat substance abuse.
Guyana is fortunate, since the last national elections, to have a government that is determined to reduce, and, if possible, eliminate the drug problem, instead of a government which condones or turns a blind eye to the issue. Individual Guyanese and organised groups of every kind are urged to heed the offer made by the administration to work hand-in-hand with anyone or any group that is willing to fight the blight of substance abuse, simply because, we have no choice. This is a fight that we have to win, if we are develop as a people.