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Survey shows shocking extent of drug, alcohol use

Two in five of us have friends and family who take illegal drugs and 60 percent have friends and family who get drunk. Half of us think it's easy to get cannabis, which is by far the most commonly abused illegal drug in Bermuda. And younger Bermudians report usage of cannabis well over the national average.These are the results suggested by the National Drug Consumption Survey of 2009, put out by the Department for National Drug Control (DNDC) in tandem with the Department of Statistics.The findings come from a November, 2009 telephone survey of 1,283 people between the ages of 16 and 65.The outcomes, the report concludes, are “consistent with prevalence of use rates observed in other countries”, such as Barbados, but indicate that substance abuse “continues to be a serious public health issue” in Bermuda.Nearly 60 percent of Bermudians drink alcoholic beverages; 12.3 percent smoke cigarettes and 7.5 percent smoke cannabis.The report also found the mean age of a first drink was just under 16 (15.0 years), and 17 for both cannabis and cigarettes.CADA chairman Anthony Santucci said he found the age for trying alcohol “very encouraging”.He said: “A similar report in 2003 found the average age to be 12, so I think this bodes well for the future. It shows we're slowly evolving as a society, after centuries of being held captive by alcohol.“That age has been going up for a while. If we can get it up to the age of 18 that would be great, but I take this as a particularly positive sign.”Mr Santucci said alcohol was the worst gateway drug: “The younger a child starts to use alcohol, the more likely they are to use other substances.”He attributed the rising age to campaigns such as CADA's “life skills programme”, which since 2006 has taught more than 1,000 students between the ages of five and 18 “how to deal with alcohol and the dangers of its abuse”.Pointing also to the finding that 60 percent of respondents had friends and family who got drunk, Mr Santucci said: “The most important thing for adults to understand is that children emulate parents.”The DNDC report also notes that males try alcohol earlier than females: 16 years to 17.7 years. In general, men showed a higher prevalence of use than women for alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.Cannabis use for respondents below age 20 was given as 11.3 percent, which one social worker who preferred not to be identified by name said was perhaps lower than expected.She said: “I work with kids and I'm 21, so I'm just out of that age range, and I would have thought the figure would be much higher, about 20 percent.”The age group of 20 to 29 years showed a 17.2 percent use of cannabis more than twice the national average.However, the survey also notes that its findings, based on self-reports, depend on “respondents' willingness to provide information and their ability to recall past experiences.”The full report can be viewed on the DNDC website, at the Bermuda Government portal www.gov.bm.