Substance abuse in youth worrying

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu ,

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Tuifagatoa Dr. George Leao Tuitama.

Tuifagatoa Dr. George Leao Tuitama. (Photo: Misiona Simo/Samoa Observer)

The increase in substance abuse among young people including a 13-year-old is a concern for Samoa’s top psychiatric doctor.

Tuifagatoa Dr. George Leao Tuitama, the psychiatric registrar and head of the Mental Health Unit in the Ministry of Health, said drug-induced psychosis comprises the largest number of cases brought to their attention.

Speaking in an interview with Samoa Observer, he said there is a growing number of young people taking illegal substances.

Tuifagatoa said: “The most common one now is substance abuse of alcohol and drug addiction." 

“There is an increasing number of the youth taking illegal substances." 

“Addiction is classified as a mental illness and substance abuse disorder is also classified as an addition." 

“There is a rising number and almost all the cases that we encounter are almost drug induced psychosis or relapsing due to substances of alcohol and marijuana and there is also a rise in meth users.”

Drug overdose is also a major problem with Tuifagatoa revealing that it can lead to a prolonged mental disability of the patient.   

“The patients that are brought in are overdosed, it is an emergency and we keep them under surveillance. 

“If they survive that emergency, there can be prolong mental disability, and so these are the consequences of overdosing.” 

The absence of family support for patients and the lack of psychologists are also major challenges for the Mental Health Unit.

Photo/Misiona Simo/Samoa Observer
Photo/Misiona Simo/Samoa Observer

Tuifagatoa said: “That is mainly because when families admit the patient, they just leave them here." 

“And sometimes, the patients just don’t get any visitation from their families." 

“The families need to be actively involved."

 “Keep in mind, our mandate here only caters for the medical side nothing more. Our mandate is the treatment.”

The lack of psychologists is also a challenge as their task is to focus on psychotherapy and treat emotional and mental suffering of patients.  

“Psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy and treating emotional and mental suffering in patients with behavioral intervention." 

“We need a psychologist on board,” he said.

Tuifagatoa said the late diagnosis of patients, due to their families taking them to Samoan healers – are some of the other issues, though they can be addressed through effective awareness and advocacy programs.

“Some families believed their patient is demon possessed, which is very common." 

“This is not just an issue here in Samoa, but also in the Pacific,” he added.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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