Good news on ‘drug war’

Partnerships among the Single State Agency, Kumit Bobrae (Prevention) group, local and national police have had a big impact on reducing sales of tobacco to minors in Majuro and Ebeye. In this file photo, a collaborative team of NGOs and government officials shows off a citation form developed in 2015 for citing stores that violate the law against sales to minors.
Partnerships among the Single State Agency, Kumit Bobrae (Prevention) group, local and national police have had a big impact on reducing sales of tobacco to minors in Majuro and Ebeye. In this file photo, a collaborative team of NGOs and government officials shows off a citation form developed in 2015 for citing stores that violate the law against sales to minors.

The US Congress’ appropriation last week of a larger budget for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) services is good news for the Marshall Islands, said Single State Agency Director Julia Alfred.

It means “more money to assist emerging issues and needs for increased and improved access to programs and services,” she said. US federal SAPT funding supports many non-government organization-provided services related to substance abuse prevention and treatment in the RMI.

The RMI SAPT program is now in its second five-year cycle, in its second year, with $1,306,000 a year being provided for substance abuse prevention work. The priority now is to prevent and reduce underage drinking and suicide, she said.

Alfred’s comments were a response to an announcement late last week from Executive Director Robert Morrison of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors about the newly approved US FY2016 US budget. The new US budget increases the SAPT Block Grant by $38.2 million.

“I see this as great news especially for our region as we join the rest of the US states and jurisdictions in this war against drug trafficking and emerging drug issues such as the legalization in many US states on marijuana for recreation and medical use, the misuse of prescription drugs especially pain killers and also other illicit drugs that we should keep our eyes open to,” Alfred said. “Our high school and college students are now using marijuana on school grounds and students are getting expelled because of marijuana found in their school backpacks.”

She encouraged parents to proactively educate their children about these drugs.

Alfred also noted that violations of the law banning sales of tobacco to minors have gone down significantly. Ten years ago, sales to minors by small stores was nearly universal. But due to stepped up awareness and enforcement activities, the rate for sale of tobacco to minors has declined steadily to an all-time low of 13.6 percent this year, which improved from 19.6 percent in 2014.

“RMI has yet to investigate the level of other drug use and the RMI SSA will continue to utilize SAPT funds from the US to develop and increase our own local workforce and services,” she said. These include law enforcement, Ports Authority, customs, immigration and local governments. “The RMI SSA is ready to provide funding assistance where needed,” she said. “The great news is that many local organizations and individuals are proactively getting involved in our nation’s mission to reduce substance use, abuse, and access.”

Read more about this in the December 25, 2015 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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