Taking rising illegal drug use in hand
Anyone who regularly reads the crime pages of our local newspapers would have observed that hardly a day goes by in Barbados without someone appearing in court on a drug-related charge. The offences range from having or smoking a spliff of marijuana, possessing a small amount of crack cocaine or the apparatus used to smoke the white powdery stuff to, in the case of large quantities, possession, possession with intent to supply and trafficking.
These days, hardly a week goes by too without one or two drug mules being apprehended at the Grantley Adams International Airport, after arriving, mostly from Jamaica and occasionally Guyana, with either a sizeable quantity of marijuana or cocaine concealed in the false bottom of a suitcase, in juice cans or other containers, inside their stomachs or, in the case of some women, tucked away inside their private parts.
Hardly a week goes by too without the police or Coast Guard making an arrest or arrests, either at sea or on shore, of persons caught illegally entering Barbadian territory via high-powered boats, usually from neighbouring St Vincent, with large quantities of marijuana packed in bales. For every boat caught, it is reasonable to assume that another may have succeeded in slipping through and delivering its potentially deadly cargo.
These criminal activities speak to Barbados being under relentless assault on almost every front by an illegal drug problem that seems to be getting worse, despite the huge amounts taken from the public purse over the years to provide solutions. It seems sometimes that despite our best efforts the authorities may be losing the war, despite impressively winning some battles especially in the area of interdiction.
Perhaps the time has come for a comprehensive review of the existing strategy to enhance the effectiveness of our anti-drug efforts.
There are many sides to the drug trade. On one hand, there are persons who are not consumers but profit the most. They are the big merchants, you can say, the persons at the top. Then there are the village lords who oversee the distribution and sale to consumers at the community level. They are found in almost every community and have persons working for them.
Most people in communities will readily tell you who they are.
On the other hand, at the bottom of the chain, we have the consumers –– men and women who feel they need to use drugs to get by. Their lives are broken in many instances because of enslavement to drugs, especially those who are addicted to the point where they will lie, steal or engage in other antisocial behaviours, like selling their bodies, to support their habit. Some too are mentally unstable and walk the streets like zombies, as so many young men are doing.
Theirs is a painful, pitiful sight, especially in cases where they were known to be men or women of great promise with bright futures ahead. However, they blew it by the choice they made which produced an unwholesome consequence. We see them rummaging through garbage bins in The City and in Oistins looking for thrown-away bits of food, or pestering passers-by for change.
Occasionally in the court, they plead desperately with magistrates for help, saying in some instances that they are hearing voices in their heads.
They are the victims of the drug trade, which is placing an increasingly heavy strain on the public purse at a time when resources are not as plentiful as before. Current anti-drug efforts focus heavily on cutting off the supply, but it seems more attention ought to be paid to the demand side. The robust supply exists because all the evidence suggests there exists robust demand
in the form of a hearty Barbadian appetite for getting high.
If it were not so, there would not be a steady flow of traffickers trying to get drugs into the country, knowing quite well that they could end up facing a hefty fine or, worse yet, spending time in prison.
It is a straightforward case of a basic principle of economics at work: wherever there is a demand, there will be a supply. Barbados may have already lost an entire generation to the illegal drug trade, but an opportunity does exist to save upcoming generations through more targeted interventions that should start at an early age. We have to get through to our children from an early, impressionable age that consuming drugs is destructive and should be avoided at all costs.
This task cannot be left to the Government alone. Everyone must play a part: the church, the school, the family. If we hold hands and puts
our heads together in the national interest, we may be amazed at the results such cooperation may yield.