Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Use of Illicit Drugs among High-School Students in Jamaica

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Use of Illicit Drugs among High-School Students in Jamaica

Article excerpt

Voir page 261 le resume en francais. En la pagina 261 figura un resumen en espanol.


Drug use and abuse remain critical problems in most countries and are associated with several social and economic consequences (1). The use of illicit drugs frequently starts among schoolchildren during adolescence. Surveys in the United Kingdom indicate that 5-20% of schoolchildren use drugs, with 2-5% using them weekly and with a peak prevalence at 14-16 years of age (2). In Trinidad and Tobago, the lifetime prevalence has been found to be 8% for marijuana use and 2% for cocaine use among secondary schoolchildren (3). In Barbados, 31% of admissions to the psychiatric hospital were linked to drug abuse, which was the second most common diagnosis; cocaine and marijuana were the most commonly abused illicit drugs (4).

The misuse and abuse of drugs by adolescent schoolchildren are global problems, and Jamaica is no exception. A survey of four high-schools in Jamaica found that 60% of children had tried one or more drugs, including marijuana, and 1.3% had used cocaine (5). Another study of households in western Jamaica revealed that 9.4% used cocaine, with 6.2% in the age group 15-24 years. Most users start while in school (6). A national survey of the use of drugs in Jamaica in 1989 reported that 78% of males and 40% of females used at least one of four drugs (alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and tobacco) (7). In 1991 it was found that 14% of teenage males and 1% of females were current users of marijuana. In addition, 4.8% of teenage children in urban areas used cocaine and/or crack cocaine (8). It is therefore important to determine the extent of drug use by Jamaican schoolchildren and to ascertain any pattern of use over time. Against this background, we investigated drug use among senior high-school students to discover whether it was prevalent in this age group. If true, drug abuse in these children is likely to persist into adulthood. Such information is essential if any education programme intended to discourage young people from abusing drugs is to succeed. The present study determined the prevalence of illicit drug use over a 4-week period (April/May 1995) among high-school students in Jamaica and correlated it with students' sex, age, school location and socioeconomic background.


In the 1994-95 academic year, there were 56 secondary high-schools in the 14 parishes of Jamaica with a total enrolment of 27 051 students in grades 10 and 11, comprising 14 430 tenth graders (mean age 15.7 years) and 12 621 eleventh graders (mean age, 16.8 years) (9). Of these schools 30 were randomly selected from the list of high-schools in Jamaica in 1994-95 prepared by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture (9). Of the 3000 copies of the questionnaire sent to the selected schools, only those that were duly completed by 2417 students in 26 schools (12 rural, 14 urban) were analysed. These copies represent a response rate of 80% while the sample size represents about 9% of the population of students in grades 10 and 11. The schools were located in 10 of the 14 parishes in Jamaica (Clarendon, Kingston, Portland, St Andrew, St Ann, St Catherine, St Elizabeth, St James, St Mary and St Thomas). The questionnaire was administered under examination conditions in the various schools by the class teachers with the cooperation of the vice-principals and/or principals. The duration of the questionnaire was 20 minutes.

The questionnaire contained the following sections: section A requested information on the students' demographic data; section B asked whether the students had used the four illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana and opium) within the previous 4 weeks; and the remaining two sections determined the students' levels of awareness of the causes and effects of drug abuse. Copies of the questionnaire were given to two experienced high-school teachers and a medical doctor who verified its content and the clarity of the language used. …

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