The Drug Scene in Mauritius

Are we capable of taking the preventive measures that we hope will stem the flow of drugs in our community? The answer is no. Neither parents nor teachers have the necessary skills to deal with the young

The public has been overwhelmed with information about the drug scene in Mauritius, particularly the prevalence of synthetic drugs in our society. There is cause for deep concern as the health and lives of our people and especially young people are at risk. Parents and families are worried lest their children fall into the trap of drug traffickers and are helpless to deal with the problem. The situation is even more confusing as neither the public nor the authorities seem to know the reality of the drug scene in the island.

In such a confusing situation it is preferable to put trust in social workers who deal with the issues on a daily basis. When a social worker who has been combating drugs for decades asserts that he had come across eight students taking drugs in a public garden or that a head mistress had called for help as she had found one of her CPE pupils taking synthetic drug, we are all forewarned that that our young people are in a dangerous situation. All that we can do is take precautionary and preventive measures and hope that the authorities will do their best to tackle the problem.

But are we capable of taking the preventive measures that we hope will stem the flow of drugs in our community? The answer is no. Neither parents nor teachers have the necessary skills to deal with the young. At most they may proffer some advice and monitor behaviour, but they are not capable of training the young to resist peer pressure at schools or inculcate counter strategies in young people to fight drug peddlers at schools or on the streets. Both as parents and teachers we may not have given importance to character building, proper socialization, and inculcation of the necessary moral values or nudging our young towards healthy pastimes to fill their leisure hours.

The overall result has been to make young people vulnerable to the ills which plague our society. They have neither the skills nor the critical thinking and the moral values that are critical for any person to become autonomous and to make informed choices. Given such a situation, one can only hope that the authorities – the Ministries concerned: Education, Health and Sports, as well as the Police together with the NGOs would step up initiatives to sensitize the schools and public about issues related to drug addiction.

While taking such measures the authorities should be capable of making a proper assessment of the drug scene. The statements coming from the various stakeholders about drugs in our society are contradictory and at best confusing. They leave the impression that they have no proper understanding of the incidence of drugs in our society.

One knows too well that that the stakeholders approach the drug issue from different perspectives. The Ministry of Health will always try to reassure the public that the situation is under control for it is its policy not to be alarmist. The Ministry of Education is expected to know better what happens in schools and is alarmed at the situation given the numerous incidents which are reported at the various levels. But it prefers to play the card of silence so as not to contradict the Ministry of Health.

The NGOs, which interact with drug users every day, find the situation alarming and will ask for more resources and may be tempted to dramatize the situation a little in order to secure more support and finance for its social work. The police will take the view that prevalence of synthetic drugs in schools or in society is being exaggerated. They will argue that their activities cover the whole of the island but may concede that there are many young people at schools and outside smoking cannabis.

All these different and sometimes contradictory statements clearly show that we do not have an accurate picture of the drug scene in Mauritius. As long as this is the case,, the diagnosis will be wrong and solutions proposed will not tackle the problem as we expect. At the moment partial figures are flung in the press. We do not know what to make of them but trust that the cases have been investigated and recorded. However we doubt whether there is a standard terminology for recording cases at the level of the Ministry of Health, Education, the Police or the NGOs.

If no standard vocabulary, concepts and terms are being used by various stakeholders to record drug cases, it become impossible to make an accurate assessment of the drug scene. In the modern age we all realize the need for a standardized terminology for recording data, especially if the data is multiple and is collected at several locations.

We are told that in 2015, 54 patients had been admitted to Brown Sequard Hospital, Beau Bassin, for overdose and that between January and May 2016, 21 persons had been interned. We are also informed that an increasing number of young people had been admitted after taking synthetic drugs.

On the other hand it is reported that according ADSU an average of 15 persons are arrested monthly with synthetic drugs. We hope that in case of overdose the authorities also make a distinction between overdose from illegal and legal drugs.

But in the case of synthetic drugs, it becomes even more complicated for the authorities to identify the drug unless there is a genuine and informed confession on the part of the subject. However we know that the lack of testing resources in our laboratories can leave large loopholes in both diagnosis and law enforcement.

At present to deal with the situation even if it is under control, the different ministries can mount an effective campaign using posters and other pedagogical tools to enable young people to ‘Say No to Drugs’. Some basic tips can be provided to students who may be found in a problem situation. The Nice Project in collaboration with police had successful workshops for students to deal with drug addiction. At least this component of the project should be revived and entrusted to the police to continue their sensitization programme.

But equally important for understanding the drug scene is the use of a common terminology, perhaps to be devised by the Central Statistics Office for the various stakeholders, for collecting and recording information. This would allow for the proper collection, analysis and sharing of data.

The CSO can also help to interpret the data pooled from various sources. This would be useful for the public but also for the decision makers. We should also not forget that the stakeholders involved in combating drugs should have one or two researchers permanently engaged in exploring the various issues related to drugs so that we are better equipped in dealing with this scourge.

* Published in print edition on 15 July 2016

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