More and more young people are exposed to drugs

According to Emilis Mikulskis, vice president of the Union of School Students, drug use in schools is an extremely relevant and important issue for the Union. As Mikulskis said, the Union of School Students believes that this problem may be solved only systematically and by taking educational and permanent measures of prevention.

“We do believe that Life Skills classes are the first step. What concerns intervention, we do not have a specific position, but agree that the measures must also be systemic and not only PR campaigns. If there are systemic gaps, they do prevent our police from taking constructive actions, thus, those gaps should be sealed, but for the time being we have no concrete proposals in this area,” the vice president of the Union of School Students admits.

According to Mikulskis, although the Union does not have any data on the municipalities where the cases of drug use by minors are the most common, the available information is very concerning and disappointing.

“The age groups are diverse, and it is particularly distressing that younger and younger schoolchildren are exposed to narcotic substances, even up to the junior high school level,” Mikulskis emphasises.
Emilis Mikulskis

The vice president of the Union of School Students assumes that the competence for putting forward direct solutions in this case belongs exceptionally to the municipalities. What is more, for solving the problem and reducing its scale continuous education must be provided. In this case, Mikulskis suggests concentration on the Life Skills program, which recently has been criticized and discussed a lot.

“It is crucially important getting rid of any hesitations about implementing the Life Skills program and strive towards its further development and expansion. Accredited prevention programs – not some drawing contests – are needed, development of an informal children’s education basket, improving the system, creating opportunities for families to send their children to additional classes, workshops so on,” Mikulskis adds.

Attention to prevention in schools

According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, drug use among young people is a complex issue, and the ministry stresses the importance of joint efforts as a means to solve the problem.

“Continuous preventive education and the creation of a safe environment in schools is a must. For this reason, from this academic year, Life Skills program has been introduced. A great part of it is dedicated to the prevention of psychotropic substances, health promotion and safe, responsible behaviour,” in its statement the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport explained.

In its statement, the ministry also shares the hope that the new Life Skills program will allow schools to spot problems more quickly, which will encourage schools to concentrate on target prevention measures more consistently, but there are more means that schools can use in order to tackle the problem of drug abuse among youth.

“Also, every school has a child welfare commission, which is responsible for providing safe and favourable educational environment and implementation of prevention programs. Since 2016, schools have been obliged to provide conditions for every student to participate in at least one consistent, long-term preventive program dedicated to developing social and emotional competences, including the prevention of violence, the use of psychoactive substances, and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, preventive programs should aim at including the entire school community, including parents,” the ministry stated.

In addition to all this, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport has provided schools with recommendations concerning preventive programs, and the Drug, tobacco and alcohol control department has prepared the necessary methodological material.

“Schools are already implementing some certified prevention programs against the use of psychoactive substances are already being implemented, for example, Crossroads of Adolescence. This program aims at integrating character development, psychoactive substances and bullying prevention into general education programs,” ministry explains.

The ministry emphasizes that the problem concerns not only academic environment: minors use psychoactive substances not only in schools, so this is a shared responsibility.

“Minors primarily start using these substances outside of school, so other institutions should also take steps to prevent the availability of these substances, reduce the possibilities of their distribution,” the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport comments.

Countries-role models

As Ministry of Education, Science and Sport has revealed, in the international reports, looking at the problem of drug use among young people, countries such as Sweden, Iceland and Norway are set as role models whose example should be followed.

“These are countries that successfully implement preventive programs for minors and prevent the use of psychoactive substances. For example, Iceland is one of the role models, applying certain legal restrictions to minors, strengthening family ties, annually evaluating students’ lifestyles with the help of surveys,” the ministry explains.

What is more, Iceland also pays extra attention to providing young people with opportunities to engage in various activities.

“In Iceland there are youth centres near schools, that offer many different activities for children. The law forbids the minors to be in public after certain hours, thus after the events parents voluntarily patrol and monitor the environment. Active classes for families are also promoted,” the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport describes the steps Iceland has taken.

The previously mentioned Sweden also actively searches for solutions to the problem.

“Parent networks are being formed in Swedish schools, their purpose is to help each other, to monitor children’s behaviour and protect them from the possible risks. What is very important, the teenagers with addiction problem are given mandatory treatment,” the ministry’s comment states.

A young person’s decisions are influenced by various factors

As sad as it is, in Lithuania children do drugs at an increasingly younger age. According to Ilmara Noreikienė, head of the children’s day care department of Klaipėda branch of the Republican Centre for Addiction Disorders, there is no specific age when children become are most vulnerable for the problem, however, in her opinion, the average age when young people, driven by curiosity, try drugs, is 12-14 years old. According to Noreikienė, the reasons why children try illegal substances do vary.

“Due to various experiences at home, such as parental divorce, loss of beloved one, psychological or sexual abuse, etc. A child whose needs are not met at home and at school are more vulnerable to start looking for recognition and appreciation in inappropriate ways. I have received a call from a mother about a child who was only nine years old,” Noreikienė admits.

Of course, there many other reasons why children start doing drugs, for example, a feeling of insecurity, lack of attention or even lack of occupation.

“Curiosity, the desire to fit in with friends, looking for ways how to ease the tension, stress or the desire to play cool also contribute, of course,” Noreikienė says.

False belief that nothing bad will happen and feeling immortal

Adolescence is an emotionally difficult period not only for a young person, who undergo the changes, but also for parents or other relatives who witness all of this. At this age, a young person experiences not only transformation of his or her body; his or her thinking or worldview is also developing, so for a teenager is quite natural to feel that even the closest people in his or her life do not understand his or her thoughts or experiences. It is nothing uncommon failing to find a common ground with a teenager, to feel hopeless at explaining him or her what is right, and what is wrong. According to Noreikienė, during adolescence children, who are transforming into adults, do think that they know and understand everything, sometimes even feel immortal, so at this stage of life it may be extremely difficult to explain to a young person drug related harm and hazards to their health.

“Young people are often aware of the negative effects and consequences, but think that nothing bad will happen to them, that perhaps they somehow will avoid those consequences, they falsely think that they control the situation,” said Noreikienė.

According the expert, it is necessary to understand that no matter how difficult the situation may seem, there is always a solution. However, the adults who are next to the child have to bear some things in mind.

“The most important thing is not to push the child away, if he or she wants to talk about something, when wants your attention. Nowadays, the old parenting methods are no longer working. Children’s awareness has to be fostered, the same applies to strong will, values, principles of self-respect, moderation and responsibility,” said Noreikienė.

According to her, clear answers to the child’s questions about the use of harmful substances are also very important.

“The responsibility of adults is to make sure that the child is not afraid to share if he or she has already tried psychoactive substances, and it is also necessary to find out what he felt, how he felt afterwards. It is the only way to show him the right way,” explained the head of the children’s day care department of the Klaipėda branch of the Republican Center for Addiction Disorders.

According Noreikienė, each and every young person should have at least one person whom he or she trusts and is not afraid to talk with about anything.

“It’s not always the parents. It may be a teacher, social specialist, psychologist, family friend or somebody else. Today, we have a highly professional network of services for children and adolescents, so that the child does not fall out of his regular schedule, school and other activities. What is very important, these services can also be received anonymously,” she said.

Signs indicating possible child’s use of psychotropic substances

According to Noreikienė, adolescence is a phase when children undergo rapid changes, so in most cases slightly different and relatively novel child’s behaviour can be a natural process. However, if certain behavioural changes persist longer and parents are concerned, they should talk to their child or seek help from professionals. According to the head of the children’s daily care department of the Klaipėda branch of the Republic Center for Addictive Diseases, if parents do suspect their child of using drugs, the following signs may help to find the truth:

• The child’s behaviour has changed for no obvious reason: he became withdrawn, often feels tired, sad, hostile, or otherwise different;
• The child’s circle of friends has changed;
• The child has started paying less attention to hygiene, takes less care of himself;
• Child’s learning achievements decreased; grades dropped;
• The child skips classes and does not attend school;
• The child’s interest in previously enjoyed activities has decreased;
• The child’s eating and sleeping habits have changed;
• The child’s relationships with friends and family members deteriorated.

According to Noreikienė, if parents are concerned about the child’s behaviour, they must look for the reason.

“Ask the child carefully, respectfully, gently - what has happened? What are the reasons for changes of his or her behaviour? Try to give the child a space where he can talk without fear of being condemned or criticized. It may take some time for the child to open, so be patient,” the expert advised.

According to her, if you know for sure that your child has problems with psychoactive substances, immediately contact specialists – at the Republican Center for Addiction Diseases in Kaunas, Vilnius or Klaipėda.

“At the Klaipėda’s branch we have children’s and adolescent psychiatrists and inpatient care for children. Asking for help is crucial, because your child’s future is at stake. There is nothing to be ashamed of,” Noreikienė assured.

Young people often do not even know what they are using, but the harm of using psychotropic substances is overwhelming. It can affect not only the physical body, but also has strong harmful impact on emotional health and mental state. Adolescence is the phase in life when you want to experiment and try everything, but it is important to understand that the desire to rebel against the world or to know yourself through dangerous experiments can irreversibly damage one’s health.

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