More than half of Cayman’s middle and high school students who admit using substances have consumed alcohol, according to a survey of grades 7 to 12 pupils.
The Cayman Islands Student Drug Use Survey, which tracks trends of drug use among Cayman’s high school students, found that 54 per cent of students who had taken substances reported drinking alcohol at least once in their lives, and 39.2 per cent said they had drank alcohol in the past year.
The average age for students to have an alcoholic drink for the first time is 11.6 years, according to the survey, which also showed that about 37 per cent of drinkers had their first drink between the ages of six and 11.
According to the survey: “More than six of every 10 students said that alcohol was ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to obtain.”
Binge drinking among teens is on the increase in Cayman, according to the study, which showed that in 1998, 7.2 per cent reported binge drinking in the past month, compared to 32.1 per cent in 2010.
A third of students who drank alcohol had taken part in binge drinking – defined as having five or more drinks at one time – in the two weeks before the survey, with 3.5 per cent saying they had been binge drinking four or more times in the past two weeks. More than half of 12th graders admitted binge drinking.
Asked where they got the alcohol, nearly one-fifth of the drinkers said they got it from friends, 8.9 per cent said from relatives other than parents, 8.5 per cent said parents offered it, 7.7 per cent said from a shop, 4 per cent said from their brother/sister, 1.1 per cent from street dealers, and 11.6 per cent obtained it in “other” ways.
The second most commonly used substance was tobacco, which was smoked by 14 per cent, and ganja, which 13 per cent of respondents admitted consuming. Other drugs were used by 3 per cent or less of students.
Other than ganja, the most popular drugs used was inhalants, donkey weed (a locally grown weed) and tranquillisers.
More than one fifth of kids who had used a substance said they first tried a drug between the ages of 6 and 11. The average age of a student in Cayman taking a drug for the first time is 12.8 years old.
Executive Director of the National Drug Council, Joan West-Dacres, said her organisation had concerns about the issues of substance use of all kinds raised in the report and hopes that educational programmes can be introduced into Cayman’s schools and even in kindergartens and pre-schools.
“We are having discussions about how that can happen,” she said. “We would like to see it being included in the curriculum. Right not, it’s not written into the curriculum.”
She said that at kindergarten level, young children would be taught messages, such as not taking other people’s medication or how some substances affect the body. “It’s not going to be about how to snort a line, it’ll be age-appropriate material,” she said.
The National Drugs Council’s research and information officer Luisa McLaughlin said one worrying trend the results showed was the increase in the use of prescription drugs, which the children admitted they usually procured at home.
“We have seen an increase in the use of prescription drugs, like tranquillisers. That has increased dramatically since 2006 when we did the last survey,” said Ms McLaughlin.
She said that most students who said they used prescription drugs said in the survey they got them at home. “Mainly, it seems the source of the substance is from the parents,” said Ms McLaughlin, who added: “I think in most cases the parents are not aware the children are using that.”
There was also a notable increase in the number of children smoking tobacco – from 0.4 per cent in 2006 to 1.1 per cent in 2010.
Ms McLaughlin said that the survey responses showed that most of the teen smokers said they had bought the cigarettes from stores.
More say no
But there was some good news in the report, which revealed that more than half of the children surveyed said they had used no drugs, cigarettes or alcohol of any kind in the past year.
According to the report: “The most dominant change in the patterns is the increase of ‘no substance use’ that occurred between 2006 (47.2 per cent) and 2010 (54.1 per cent).”
“I believe it is very good number, but it’s still high,” said Ms McLaughlin. “The majority are not using, but we have a very large number of people who are using at least one drug,” she said.
The survey showed that in 2010, 5.56 per cent of all students surveyed said it was “easy” or “very easy” to obtain any drug. Just over 3 per cent of 7th graders found it easy to get drugs, while almost 10 per cent of 12th graders said it was easy to get them.
Of the students who had used some kind of substance in the past year, one-fifth said they used only alcohol, 1 per cent used only tobacco and 1 per cent used only ganja. About 5 per cent used another drug exclusively, the survey found.
The percentage of students that use only alcohol decreased from 30.3 per cent in 2006 to 20.4 per cent in 2010.
The survey was done in nine middle and high schools, and Eagle House, of all students enrolled in grades 7 to 12. For 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006, all 12 middle and high schools in the Cayman Islands participated in the surveys.
A total of 88 per cent of the students in the schools took part in last year’s survey.
The survey defines substance use in the past year as using a substance at least once during the past 12 months. Alcohol use excludes a sip, but includes drinking at special events. Tobacco use excludes trying one cigarette.