Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Violence & Drug Prevention Training Needed!

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

Political, social and economic leaders in Antigua and Barbuda need to come together and initiate powerful strategies to curb the apparently growing levels of violence and drug use among our youth. Despite the best efforts of our youth workers, educators, community officers, law enforcement personnel and other adults who work with youth they have not been able to stem what seems to be a growing problem of violence and drug use among our youth.

Despite the billion of dollars dumped in the “war-on-drugs” by countries around the world, the number of young people using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs has not decreased. And, despite the huge amount of other dollars spent on placing metal detectors in schools, incarcerating young violent offenders, and placing more police officers on the streets and even in some schools, violence among young people has not decreased… it is on the increase. Billions of dollars have also been used to fund the revolving door of drug addiction and treatment, building prisons, increasing the number of law enforcement officers, adding magistrates, judges, probation and parole officers, and prisoner officers. All of these things have been tried without much success – other than filling prisons with younger and younger people.

Few people would argue that a major shift in strategy is needed.

That shift must go in the direction of prevention.

The major assumption of prevention is that if young people are taught key cognitive, behavioral and social skills and presented with critical information, they will be less likely to be involved in delinquent behaviors – including violent behavior and drug use or abuse. Additionally, prevention efforts seek to address and reduce individual, family and community factors that predispose young people to adopt negative lifestyles and behaviors. Prevention programs also enhance and strengthen key protective/resiliency factors that propel youth towards socially acceptable and personally rewarding lifestyles.

In Antigua and Barbuda, there is growing concern about the apparent increase in drug use by youth and their involvement in criminal and violent activities. Political, community and business leaders have recognized that these developments pose a serious social, economic and public health threat. They have also realized that not only does violent activities and drug use and abuse pose an immediate danger to the society, but they also menace the future development of the country’s human resources – its youth. Our leaders should therefore be committed to finding solutions to this critical and growing problem.

One solution to the threat of youth violence and drug use and abuse is to train adults and youths in drug and violence prevention. Such training would involve all stakeholders from public and private sectors and the community. Participants would include Youth Leaders, Teachers, Prevention Professionals, Community Outreach Officers, Health Professionals, Parole & Probation Officers, Social Workers, Sport Coaches, Psychologists, School Counselors, Addiction Counselors, Youth Workers, Program Supervisors and Managers, Policy Officials, Training Officers, School Administrators and Law Enforcement Officers.

A drug and violence prevention training program would train participants to work with youth to reduce drug use and violence and encourage them to adopt more socially acceptable and life enhancing values and behaviors. On completion of such training, participants would be prepared, certified and qualified to design, develop and implement prevention and intervention activities targeted to pre-teens, teenagers and young adults in Antigua and Barbuda.

Another feature of a national focus on prevention would involve political, social and business leaders in discussions on how they can craft policy measures that would support the shift towards prevention. Political leaders would need to demonstrate their commitment by supporting youth and community workers, and educators with the staff and material resources. Business leaders could support prevention programs by sponsoring prevention community and school activities. Businesses could also sponsor nation-wide prevention initiatives such as radio and television ads focused on youth. Social leaders could add drug and violence prevention programming to their agenda and could serve as and provide volunteers for nationwide prevention events.

The core of all of the above ideas is centered around a comprehensive training strategy where all stakeholders (including political and business leaders) receive a minimum level of training in the scientific methodology of violence and drug prevention.