SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Preventing drug use at an early age is the goal of the Drug Prevention Program carried out by the Counter-Narcotics Division (DAN) of the National Civil Police.
Developed in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, the National Anti-Drug Council, the Ministry of Education (MINED) and the country’s 14 departmental governments, the plan seeks to help students understand the risks of drug use.
“Unfortunately, every year there’s an increase in the number of drug arrests … among young people. That’s why we developed this prevention plan,” DAN Deputy Commissioner Francisco Gómez said.
The program, which began in January 2013 at five San Salvador schools – three public and two private – consists of talks to students, awareness campaigns about the risks and health effects of drug use and the legal problems caused by drug use and possession.
DAN personnel give the talks, during which they go into detail about the different types of drugs and their physical, psychological and criminal consequences. At the same time, the leading students from the schools are trained to be their classmates’ mentors.
The talks are given periodically and take up two to three hours of class time. The other institutions provide the educational materials and resources that are used during the school visits.
The project was based on the results of a 2011 thesis prepared by students from the Social Sciences Department of the University of El Salvador, which showed that at least 29% of the country’s 6,095 public and private schools reported drug use among students.
According to the thesis, drug use begins between the ages of 12 and 17.
There have been cases where teachers have caught students taking drugs in school, which was the case with a public school teacher in San Salvador who did not disclose her name for security reasons.
“I went into the bathroom and surprised four students smoking marijuana,” she said. “I immediately drew up a report to call their parents and the police. Despite our insistence, they wouldn’t tell us who provided the drugs or how the drugs were brought onto the school grounds.”
The students were suspended for a week and their parents committed to keeping them away from drugs. Three months after the incident, three of the students haven’t returned to school.
“The solution to the issue of drug addiction isn’t to expel them, because if [the students] spend more time [away from school], they become more vulnerable to drug use,” the teacher warned.
The pilot project carried out by the DAN practically eliminated drug consumption in the schools where it was implemented.
“In the places where we began the project, we don’t have any reports of drug use,” Gómez said. “The level of drug influence is zero, so we had to replicate this effort on the national level.”
MINED is pleased with the results, according to Salvadoran National Education Director Renzo Valencia.
“We know that criminal groups try to introduce young people to drugs, but this inter-institutional effort seeks to curb that practice,” he said. “If young people are aware of the risks that drugs carry, they may decide not to use drugs.”
Drug use is one of the main causes of school dropouts, behind gang recruitment and bullying, according to MINED.
“Now, we have a protocol for combating this problem,” Valencia added. “We’re seeking to develop a school program that convinces young people of the dangers of drugs.”
Despite not having a specific budget for the development of the plan, authorities hope to implement it nationwide by June, while they temporarily work with their own funds.
At least US$5 million is needed to develop the plan nationally, according to DAN.
“We can guarantee that we’ll have positive results by the end of the school year,” Valencia said. “The next challenge will be to increase the involvement of students’ parents, so they can also be reproducers of the message against drug use.”
Article by Infosurhoy