Few things spread as quickly as trends among the youth, which is why young people are such a prized market for the mass peddling of products and ideas. When the trend involves dangerous products and ideas, it becomes the responsibility of adults to step in and save them from themselves.
The Sunday Express revelation of teenagers getting high on concoctions of codeine cough syrup is a matter that requires the urgent attention of parents, schools and government authorities. While Education Minister Anthony Garcia acknowledges the problem he was quick to say that it is not “widespread”. Assuming that his information is on target, then he has the opportunity to lead an intervention to prevent its spread and eradicate the problem. Cough syrup abuse must not be treated as some harmless diversion of wayward and bored teenagers. It is a dangerous practice that is addictive and, when used in high doses, can lead to respiratory failure, coma and even death, according to the medical literature.
The first points of danger, however, are ignorance and denial. Like other social cliques, many young people live in a world of their own impenetrable by information from others. Communication technology also puts them on global highways where natural curiosity and innocence can suck them into treacherous networks sealed off from their physical realities. There they can be led into experiments and drawn into virtual experiences to be later replicated in the real world.
Many parents, teachers and principals lack the array of tools to monitor young people in the real world of boundaries, far less the virtual world where boundaries hardly exist. For all its wonders of information and engagement, the Internet is also a place of great danger for the innocent and unwary of all ages. In the case of drug addiction, whether conventional or not, the only effective responses are information and enforcement of best practice in the sale of drugs.
Schools, families and the government must come together swiftly with the purpose of understanding the phenomenon in order to develop a response that fortifies our teenagers with the information and knowledge to protect themselves. On the other side, health authorities must become more active in policing pharmacies and updating standards where required. It is common knowledge that while some pharmacies comply with regulations regarding the dispensation and sale of medication, others are willing to overlook them in the interest of the bottom line. What is not recommended is the big stick approach.
Every generation of youth finds its own way to push the envelope and to venture into the unknown along the fringes of adulthood. Some are merely testing the limits of freedom or seeking relief from the ennui of boredom or practising the exercise of personal power. For others, however, experimenting with drugs is an escape from the hard realities of hurt and trauma. Weaning our youth off drugs and the temptation to experiment with drugs requires an understanding of the factors at play which in turn demands psychological resources.
Now that the problem is out in the open, the priority is to get all hands on board and develop an effective response.