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Substance Use and Abuse Among Secondary School Students

P. Prince

P. Prince National Council on Drug Abuse Prevention, Office of the Prime Minister, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis

Objectives: To determine the prevalence of substance use and abuse among students attending secondary schools in the twin-island Federation of St Kitts and Nevis and to look at perception of harm by gender and form.

Design and Methods: A study of students attending secondary school on both islands was conducted. All students enrolled in Form 2, Form 4, and Form 6 were targeted. Self-administered questionnaires comprised questions on illicit and licit drugs as well as awareness of consequence of use and curiosity toward use of drugs.

Results: There were a total of 1,927 students surveyed on both islands of which 410 (21.3 percent) attended schools on Nevis and 1,517 (78.7 percent) attended schools on St Kitts. The mean age of the students studied was 13 years (Form 2), 15 years (Form 4), and 17 years (Form 6). The lifetime prevalence of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana was 72 percent, 22 percent, and 17 percent respectively, while the prevalence of current use was 28 percent, 3 percent, and 4 percent respectively. Also, use of these substances was more prevalent among the male students than their female student counterparts for alcohol (78 percent versus 70 percent) cigarettes (31 percent versus 16 percent) and marijuana (23 percent versus 12 percent). Overall, the lifetime prevalence of tranquilizers (3 percent), solvents (3 percent), and cocaine (0.5 percent) use was low. Sixteen percent of Form 6 students perceived the frequent use of marijuana to be slightly or not harmful compared to 13 percent of Form 4 students. However, for alcohol, 19 percent of the Form 4 students compared to 17 percentof the Form 6 students were of the same perception. Overall, 36 percent of the students said that they were slightly informed when asked if they felt that they knew enough about the consequence of drug use while 10 percent were not informed. Twenty percent of the students were curious about trying an illicit drug and 15 percent said that they would try it if given a chance. More than half of the students (59 percent) had not taken any drug prevention courses.

Conclusion: Alcohol is the legal substance of choice. For illegal substances marijuana remains the prevalent drug for lifetime use. However, despite the belief that knowledge alone should be a deterrent from drug use, students are still very curious about trying other drugs. The prevalence of lifetime use is evidence of this and as such more prevention program need to be designed and implemented to deter use.

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Latin America & Caribbean