School-aged drug abusers and desistence: What’s the catch?

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Drug abuse amongst youngsters is definitely not a new social phenomenon. Still, it is shocking to read statistics regarding substance use by school-aged children. Moreover, many associate drugs with criminal activity and desistance from such activity need to be promoted. This was the subject matter of the Work in Progress in the Social Studies (WIPSS) seminars series organised by Professor Paul Clough, Professor Peter Mayo and Doctor Michael Brigulgio.

The main goal of these seminars was to provide any researchers with a forum to obtain feedback for their ideas through discussion and to act as an interface between the University community and civil society in Malta. This seminar did just that, with Dr. Damian Spiteri, a senior lecturer at MCAST, and Leon-David Madden, a facilitator at the CARITAS New Hope programme sharing their views and expertise.

The first part of the seminar consisted of Dr. Spiteri putting the participants in the sociological context of the subject. This served well for attendees such as myself, who were not familiar with sociology and other related theories to be put into perspective and who did wholly understand the matter at hand. It is remarkable how many theorists and researchers have written about the matter with each and every one of them presenting a variety of opinions and theories as to what works in resolving this issue of drug abuse amongst school-aged youngsters. These mainly included the notion the labelling, dialogue between the victims and the people around them as well as the link between desistance and the criminal image associated with drugs.

The second part, which I also found  to be quite innovative involved Dr. Spiteri and Mr. Madden conversing between themselves regarding the subject. Madden pointed out how drugs abuse amongst peers is recent, it has been part of our society for years. In spite of this, the number of school-aged people who are abusing of drugs is continuously on the increase since such substances are more available than ever. Throughout the dialogue, it was pointed out how challenging it is for youngsters to open up and trust the guidance teacher made available in educational institutions. Moreover, the speakers highlighted how many peers are influenced by the media as well as their peer group. The parent’s role is also crucial to the peer’s education. Parents should be well informed to put their children on the right track. Interestingly enough, it was pointed out that society associates drug abuse and criminal activity with people who come from poor backgrounds. This isn’t a rule engraved in stone since even people from the high end of society can fall victim to such abuse and criminal activity.

The discussion that then followed focussed on the participants, mainly students, who gave their feedback related to what had been said. Many pointed out how the criminal image which is associated with drug use might motivate peers to actually try out such substances. Others argued that the media, ironically as a source of education, seems to glorify alcohol and drugs with some programmes blowing the issue out of proportion and looking at the issue as an opportunity for promotion. Inevitably, the hotly debated topic of decriminalising drugs also came up. The latter fit in perfectly with the seminar topic and many seemed to argue in favour of such an incentive, posing well-worded arguments and giving examples of other countries such as the Netherlands where this decriminalisation has taken place. On the other hand, there was scepticism of such decriminalisation amongst school-aged youngsters.

Such activities serve as a ground for informing oneself on subject matters outside the ambits of one’s particular course. As a law student, I am mostly interested in the legal perspective but this seminar has given me a completely diverse outlook on drug abuse and desistance. It is a pity that many people don’t attend or appreciate such initiatives since in reality, they are extremely informative.

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