Youths on cannabis double in eight years
The number of students aged 15 and 16 dabbling in cannabis has practically doubled over eight years even though Maltese teenagers' use of the substance remained below the European average, a report has shown.
Although 13 per cent of students used cannabis in 2007, when compared to seven per cent in 1999, Malta remained under the European average of 19 per cent, according to the latest European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (Espad).
The 2007 survey looked into trends and gave a comprehensive picture of licit and illicit drug use among adolescents in 35 European countries. Local research for the most recent survey, launched yesterday, was carried out between January and March 2007 and involved 3,500 students. Sedqa clinical director George Grech said the survey showed an increased use of stimulants, like cocaine, among students.
"While it is not alarming, it is indicative... What concerns me is that cannabis has been linked to psychosis and can be more damaging to young people who are still developing," he said.
Results for Malta showed the use of inhalants, such as glues, were almost double the total country average with 16 per cent of teenagers admitting to having tried them when compared to the nine per cent European average.
Dr Grech said the use of inhalants had always worried people in the profession because they did not come into contact with youngsters who inhaled these damaging substances.
The combined use of alcohol with pills was also higher in Malta, standing at 11 per cent, compared to the Espad countries that averaged at six per cent. Alcohol consumption in Malta stood at 87 per cent, slightly higher than the 82 per cent Espad average but it remained the number one problem.
Dr Grech said he was particularly worried about the repeated use of alcohol and wanted to see the minimum drinking age upped to 18 from 17 and the present law enforced.
The survey showed that heavy episodic drinking "in the past 30 days" increased through the years in Malta, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Portugal and the Slovak Republic.
Sharon Arpa, a research senior executive, explained that the local research was carried out before the legal drinking age was increased from 16 to 17 in summer 2007. Therefore, the effect of this law would only be measured in the 2011 Espad study.
She said the survey showed that about 55 per cent of Maltese students had first tasted wine before the age 13 while just under 50 per cent had tried beer at that age.
When it came to spirits, most, that is under 40 per cent, tried them between the age of 14 and 15 while about 35 per cent first sipped them when under 13.
As to the repercussions of alcohol, most Maltese students said they performed badly at school or work (about 15 per cent), had problems with parents and friends (about 13 per cent), got involved in fights (about 13 per cent) or had sex without a condom (10 per cent).
The overall results of Maltese students using tranquillisers or sedatives without a prescription (five per cent) and smoking (26 per cent), were lower than the Espad averages (six and 29 per cent, respectively).
Education Minister Dolores Cristina said it was important to look into why teenagers were experimenting with substances. One reason, she said, was lack of self-esteem.
The education reform would help ensure these children did not feel less competent than their peers as it aimed to bring out the skills of individuals rather than stream them into groups.
Social Policy Minister John Dalli agreed with the concept of tackling the problem at its roots. One way was ensuring that substances were not easily accessible to vulnerable young people.
He said prices of alcohol and cigarettes in Malta were still low compared to other countries.
Action had to be taken to address the type of role models young people were exposed to through entertainment media. All too often, these role models got attention when they suffered from some form of abuse problem. Such role models encouraged a culture of irresponsibility and egoism that were the roots of many social problems, he said.