Red flag raised on substance use among kids, adolescents

PANJIM: The Child Rights Commission has expressed concern over increasing exposure of children and adolescents to illicit substances with a large section of neglected children at a greater risk. In a draft report on Mental Health Policy for Children & Adolescents for the State of Goa, the Commission observed that contraband substances have also reached government educational institutes. Substance use in children and adolescents is a growing concern. Its noted that the age of onset of substance use is gradually reducing. Substance use gets initiated with the use of gateway drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Certain populations of children, like street children, children with troubled childhood, learning difficulties and such other childhood issues, are at risk for drug use and abuse. The substances used are tobacco, cannabis, inhalants and lesser opiates, it states. The report, drafted with the help of stakeholders, also raises apprehensions over the increasing trend of cannabis use in private and government schools and colleges, not only in coastal areas but also in the interiors. It suggests that the community and families need to be educated on early identification based on physical signs, behavioural signs and other warning signs. Early intervention is the best way to address substance use. Psychosocial interventions are the main stay of treatment and can be provided in a NGO setting with referral for children requiring medication for treatment of withdrawals or for assessing health damage and treatment thereof. Prevention strategies are important which should include information, education and communications in schools colleges and communities on the ill effects of drug use, the report, by Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights Chairperson Dr Sushma Kirtani states, while also inviting suggestions on the Mental Health Policy. The report also states that mental health is neglected with some parents even ignoring the first signs of mental illness in their children. It is surprising that there is more attention given to physical health and mental health issues of children are neglected. People find it difficult to address this issue. Parents are the first primary caregivers and are the first to see a change in behaviour of their children but often surprisingly, they either ignore or try to hide facts, which sadly leads to a progression in the level of mental illness. It is the duty of parents, teachers, medical fraternity, social workers and counsellors to notice the early signs and to recommend appropriate referral, states the report.