Alcohol, drug abuse statistics point to a growing crisis?

Did you get the chance to read the story quoting the Salvation Army on the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse in Samoa? The Salvation Army’s alcohol and drug addiction service only opened its doors in August last year, but the number of cases that they have to deal with since their opening is worrying.

In a story titled “Statistics shine light on drug and alcohol addiction in Samoa”, which was published in the September 18, 2019 edition of the Samoa Observer, the church’s Lt Colonel Rod Carey revealed that they have seen over 300 people since their service opened.

“Since the addiction service started in August 2018, the Salvation Army has seen over 300 people needing alcohol and or drug treatment and support,” he said.

Mr. Carey also revealed that currently they have 320 clients on their books with most of them connected to a criminal offence, and were referred by the Ministry of Justice and Court Administration.

“Out of 320 clients there are 74 with an assault offence, and that makes up 23 per cent of the clients in total whereas a total number of 201 clients are referred for alcohol use which makes up 63 per cent of their total," he said. 

“The majority of referrals come from the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration, but they would like to see more self-referrals where people seek help at an earlier stage before the problem becomes more serious.

“Our programme so far has been very successful and all clients graduate after six weeks of treatment with a certificate and a letter to say they have completed the programme.”

The arrival of the Salvation Army in August last year with its alcohol and drug addiction service could not have come at a better time, with the community trying to come to terms with the increase in criminal activities, that are directly or indirectly connected to alcohol and drug abuse.

Assuming that the 300 people who sought the services of the Salvation Army are all Samoans, they would represent 0.16 per cent of the country’s 190,000 population. And while the percentage may appear insignificant in the overall picture, the fact that over 300 people were referred or sought the services of the Salvation Army’s center points to a growing crisis.

Now is the time to act to tackle a growing crisis and we note Mr. Carey making reference to a challenge facing clients who called in for treatment – the absence of educational material on the harmful effects of alcohol – and the link between intoxication and violence.

But the tragedy of this debate is that this is not a new issue. The Samoa Law Reform Commission called for reforms in alcohol consumption and sales two years ago, following its findings that it (alcohol) was increasingly connected to the number of murder, manslaughter and grevious bodily harm cases in Samoa.

“Three quarters (approximately 72 per cent) of all murders, manslaughter and grievous bodily harm offences are committed under the influence of alcohol and or drugs,” stated the SLRC report, which was produced in response to a request from the Attorney General’s Office in 2014. 

The report also made reference to statistics provided by the Ministry of Health at that time, which showed a significant number of deaths from alcohol-related diseases between the years 2010 to 2014 at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital at Motootua, confirming its impact on the health of the nation.

The highest incidence of alcohol-related diseases between 2009-2014 was diabetes mellitus or type 2 diabetes, followed by hypertension which often resulted in death together with cerebrovascular diseases or strokes and heart failures. 

Now that we know the impact that alcohol and drug abuse has on the nation and its people, we must ask what action has been taken since 2017 to address this growing crisis.

We acknowledge the Government pushing through legislation last year, in a bid to address the issue. Excise tax on liquor was increased by 100 per cent, with the Minister of Revenue telling Parliament that the increase is in response to Police concerns at the spike in alcohol-related incidents.

But we must go back to the concerns expressed by Mr. Carey at the lack of education on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. 

We believe it is time for the Government to commission an independent study on the viability of incorporating alcohol and drug education programmes into the health curriculum in Samoan schools. Receiving key messages – on the dangers of alcohol and drug consumption at a critical juncture of a child’s education – can have a positive impact on their wellbeing and ultimately save lives to add to the growth and prosperity of Samoa.

Have a lovely Thursday Samoa and God bless.

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