More students in Cayman are drinking and drinking heavily according to the National Drug Council’s most recent drug use survey results.
Coinciding with the release of the results of its 2002 Students Drug Use Survey, the NDC launched the first-ever alcohol awareness month in Cayman.
Catherine Chesnut, NDC chief executive officer, noted that a 2004 survey was cancelled by Hurricane Ivan but added that data was collected in January this year and the results of that survey will be released in June or July.
She announced the launch of alcohol awareness month at a press conference attended by Governor Stuart Jack and Minister for Health and Human Services Anthony Eden.
Noting the theme, Underage drinking – it’s everybody’s business, Ms Chesnut added that it had particular relevance for the Cayman Islands.
Looking at the results of the survey, which is being released for the first time, Ms Chesnut said, ‘As they get older, more students engage in binge drinking.’
She added that alcohol is readily available to young people, not just through friends and by going to bars, but by stealing it from their homes and other people’s homes, as well as by getting others to buy it.
According to the survey, which had a 93 per cent response rate for the 2,500 students from grades seven to 12 given the questions, more young people are reporting the use of ganja as well as drinking heavily.
Ms Chesnut called on relevant agencies and organisations to help with the problem, but added that people closer to the situation need to get involved.
‘Individuals and the family and the community need to take responsibility for what’s happening,’ she said, adding that they have to teach when it is appropriate to drink and not to drink.
Looking at the survey, Ms Chesnut specifically pointed to the increase in ganja use. In 1998, alcohol was the most abused substance among youth, followed by tobacco, inhalants and ganja. By 2002, ganja and tobacco had switched places.
‘Alcohol remains the number one drug of choice,’ she said.
The governor expressed shock at the survey figure of more than 800 out of 2,315 youth aged between 11 and 18 admitting to drinking alcohol over the past 12 months.
In addition, almost 300 students reported they had a heavy or binge drinking episode over the same time frame. In the survey, heavy drinking was defined as at least five drinks on one occasion.
‘If we could encourage young people to say no and not to put pressure on their underage friends to drink, that would be great progress,’ he added.
Ms Chesnut explained that the census was handed out to every middle and high school student, both government and private, in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. While she conceded the results may under represent the actual numbers, she believes the survey can offer insight into emerging trends and the tools needed to make policy decisions.
According to the survey, more students are smoking at an earlier age; 9.5 per cent reported using ganja in 2002 compared to 7.2 per cent in 2000; and 12.7 per cent of those responding in 2002 said they were drinking heavily compared to 7.2 per cent in 1998.
In addition, more males than females drink heavily (14 per cent compared to 11.3 per cent) and smoke ganja (11.8 per cent versus 7.4 per cent), according to the 2002 figures.
On the positive side, she said that according to the survey, 55 per cent of students are completely drug free.
‘We are able to at least keep a core of our young people drug free,’ she said.
In addition, fewer females reported smoking in 2002 compared to 1998 (6.1 per cent versus 8.4 per cent). The number of students who reported using inhalants remained about the same.
Ms Chesnut also noted the high response rate to the survey, which she said is the longest-running study in the region.
‘We average a greater than 90 per cent response rate which for a voluntary study is exceptional. Normally, 70 to 75 per cent is considered a good study,’ she said.
Ms Chesnut attributed the excellent response to the way her organisation conducts the survey.
‘The teachers aren’t in the classroom. People the students have never seen before conduct it. We assure confidentiality. There are no names and no numbers, and no way of identifying the student. If you can assure anonymity, it is more likely the students will be truthful,’ she explained.
Mr. Jack offered his support for the effort to control alcohol abuse.
‘As governor, one of my main concerns must be the health of the community,’ he said, pointing to the importance of social stability and social harmony.
Mr. Eden stressed that adults need to do their part to discourage alcohol consumption.
‘Adults can take action. Family, friends and parents can shape behaviour by explicitly discouraging underage drinking.’
The minister added that government is considering legislation targeted at alcohol-related issues and will be looking at initiatives in other countries to see how they could work in Cayman.
To bring home the message of the dangers of underage drinking, throughout the month there will be public service announcements on television and radio and in newspapers.
The NDC will also be holding presentations for community organisations.