by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
- Recent research has shown athletes as early as 8 years use marijuana or alcohol or a combination
- Survey revealed misconception that consuming a pint of beer is like consuming a soft drink
- Schools expected to abide by revised Drug and Alcohol Policy
Although the Grenada National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO) has not positively tested any local athletes for doping, recent research has shown that there are athletes using marijuana or alcohol or a combination of both, as early as 8 years.
“Learning that there are athletes taking these substances, it is pretty alarming. Our anti-doping programme usually starts from grade 5. We currently have a workbook in all secondary and primary schools on island but of course, it was targeting the grade 5s who are around 10 years of age. So now we have to start thinking should we start this programme earlier because now we understand that athletes are taking drugs from age 8,” said Joel Johnson, NADO Chairman.
NADO is an organisation that facilitated the integration of anti-doping workbooks for young people within the school curricula. The workbook is said to be interactive which features topic-specific puzzles, comics and facts and is presently used by physical education (PE) teachers across the nation. The findings show that first exposure to marijuana is in the home while student-athletes were found to have first exposure to alcohol at parties.
“From the findings, it shows that parents have a key role to play in terms of what the student-athletes are involved in, so it also tells us that we need to work along with parents. As we also saw from the findings, some parents don’t think that marijuana or alcohol is classified as a drug so some parents don’t mind their children taking it. So clearly this is something we need to address,” Johnson said.
Revealing these findings were masters students from the University of Michigan who concluded their research in order to assist the Drug Control Secretariat to develop a Sports and Substance Abuse Prevention Programme for youths, using sports as a medium which is expected to target student-athletes and schools and the parents of athletes as well.
Souad Ali of the University of Michigan, whose aim area of focus is studying health behaviour and health education with a focus on global public health, was among the 3 students presenting the findings.
A total of 71 student-athletes, (55 males and 16 females) between the ages of 14 and 19 were interviewed by the team from the University of Michigan. The survey was meant to:
- Understand the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of students and athletes regarding marijuana and alcohol
- Understand the factors that are driving students and athletes to use marijuana and alcohol
- Understand the different perception of marijuana and alcohol between boys and girls
- Understand how students, athletes, teachers and coaches can be involved in the development of the programme.
Ali said based on the findings the perception among coaches is that athletes don’t use marijuana or drink alcohol, but sadly this is far from the truth. Furthermore, the survey reveals that there exists the misconception that consuming a pint of beer is like consuming a soft drink. There is also the belief among athletes that alcohol causes infertility; smoking and eating marijuana have the same effect; less than 3% alcohol does not count and boys can tolerate more alcohol than girls.
She is advocating that once a student-athlete is caught using such substances, there shouldn’t be any punitive measures taken since this can further compound the problem. “We recommended that there not be harsh consequences especially from first-time offenders because like we said these youths just need guidance because there is a lot of factors that influence them and we found that they are getting conflicting information sometimes from either their parents, coaches, administration or even policies, so sometimes it’s the responsibility of adults or the community to direct them on to the right path,” she said.
Among the recommendations given to the Drug Control Secretariat, is to develop a nationwide campaign that seeks to focus more on educating students, their parents, coaches and teachers about the issue through workshops.
Dr Rohan Jeremiah, Associate Professor of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois Chicago, was very instrumental in getting the students from the University of Michigan to visit Grenada to conduct a week of research. Dr Jeremiah believes that base on the findings presented, there is a great need for more awareness through targeted campaigns on the issue of substance use among Grenada’s student-athletes. He is advocating that the Ministry of Education, through the Drug Control Secretariat apply for funding to undertake such a programme.
“There are a lot of international organisations that will be interested in this work particularly as it addresses the concern as it relates to our youth, adolescents and children, so certainly there will be funding mechanisms particularly with UN and UNICEF,” he said.
Grenada recently revised its Drug and Alcohol Policy and schools around the island are expected to abide by its mandates.
Drug Control Officer, Dave Alexander, said the implementation of the Sports and Substance Abuse Prevention Programme will further complement regulations that are already in place. Regarding the issue of doping with the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Alexander said there is a need to educate all athletes including their physical education (PE) teachers on this particular subject.
“The immediate step is to build on the discussion we will have on 19 March. We will be meeting with the physical education (PE) teachers of the schools and then we now start to formulate the programme which is expected to take some time,” he said.
Some of the other recommendations made by the University of Michigan include:
- Conducting workshops on how to approach the situation when a student/athlete is caught with or found to be using marijuana or alcohol
- Consequences for substance use should be equal and well established
- Avoid harsh consequences for first-time offenders and focus on encouragement and advice
- Educating on positive behavioural change methods in order to have the most impact on student/athlete.