Schools, students face threat


The new drug – Copen – is taking schools in most parts of the country by storm.

Despite being around for five years, it is not catching the attention of authorities enough.

Authorities are relying on parents and communities to address Copen. But, it seems this approach is not working.

It is widespread in the capital, Honiara, and has spread to nearby provinces.

Education authorities and teachers who spoke to Island Sun say it is prevalent among primary and junior secondary students, forms one to three.

Selwyn College Principal Fr Davidson Ngwaeramo raised this issue in his keynote address during the school’s graduation on Saturday, Nov 5.

He pleaded with parents and communities to work together to look after their children and guide them from the bad habit of taking drugs.

“The effect of Honiara as a melting pot, the school is experiencing spillover of the use of drugs by a few students,” Ngwaeramo said.

“This issue is a common knowledge, as we read in social media, and is threatening the academic excellence and the spirit of life of students studying at Selwyn college,” he added.

“May I appeal to all good parents and guardians of Selwyn college students, please take special care and monitor movements of your adult children, to ensure that they do not have the freedom to move about freely and engage in activities that would disturb their studies and most importantly their personal health.

“Because the use of drugs such as Copen will result in poor health and it could be the end of their education.”

Ngwaeramo is not alone in this dilemma. Schools across Honiara are struggling to arrest the problem of Copen.

One teacher tells Island Sun, “It is a very tough issue to resolve.”

It is reportedly used by students in most community high schools in Honiara.

The Honiara City Council Education Authority could not be reached for comment.

However, two teachers of two schools under the HCC education authority agreed to speak to Island Sun on condition of anonymity.

They admit it is a problem in their respective schools and that it is the same in other HCC schools.

“Copen packages can be found lying on the floor in the classrooms, along the walkways, outside buildings,” says the first, a teacher at White River school.

“You can see the Copen spit stains in the bins and the grass outside classrooms. Students just can’t seem to stop,” he adds.

The second, a teacher of St John’s community High, says some students awaiting disciplinary sentence are in trouble for Copen-related offences.

“It is a big problem for us here at St John’s which our admin is having a hard time to tackle.

“Yes, I can confirm having heard from other colleague teachers of other HCC schools that Copen is also a problem in their schools too,” he adds.

Even the government flagship school, King George VI is facing the same problem.

“It is a serious ongoing problem here, since last year,” says a senior staff, who requested anonymity.

“This is prevalent among the junior forms, form 1, 2 and 3. Both boys and girls.

“Many students have already been suspended after being caught with it. The school has zero tolerance of any drugs and illegal substance.

“Most of the suspended students have returned and have been seen to have changed. Last month (October) was the latest incident in which some students were caught with Copen.”

Copen in the provinces

In Renbel province Copen usage among students and youths has been described as ‘widespread’.

A teacher on Bellona, requesting anonymity, says Copen is even believed to be connected to the death of a student recently.

“It is a very serious issue here on Bellona. It is widespread. Since it is easy to make, students can cook it themselves at home.

“Many have been suspended but this has not abated the usage of Copen.

“Communities are attempting to help. Some family members have reportedly destroyed cooking utensils and ingredients of Copen which they caught their children with.”

The Renbel provincial authority acknowledges this is a growing problem, and are trying to work with the province’s education arm to deal with Copen.

Provincial secretary Aubrey Sau’eha says, “I think it must not be taken lightly, it needs to be quickly addressed before many more kids in schools use it.”

Sau’eha appeals to schools, teachers, parents and communities in Renbel to “play their part” and guide their children away from the habit.

Isabel education authority tells Island Sun that they successfully addressed the Copen problem with the help of the police, community leaders and parents earlier this year.

“Earlier this year, some students came over from Honiara and spread the use of Copen to their peers. This was in areas near Buala. It was reported by parents and the police and community leaders brought the children and their parents together and gave awareness to them of the harm this drug and other drugs have on people.

“Since then, we have not received any report,” the Isabel education authority office statement said.

Makira-Ulawa Premier Julian Makaa responding to enquiries says his office has not received any report of Copen-related incident in schools in his province.

However, he does not rule out the possibility of the drug already penetrating communities there.

“It could be here already, we are yet to find out. But, if it were, or if Copen use was an issue in any of the schools here, it would no doubt be raised to the attention of my office or that of the provincial education authority.”

In Malaita, Copen is also causing ripples in the nation’s most populated province.

Malaita education authority CEO did not respond to enquiries.

However, the Deputy principal of Auki community high school, Anthony Tolari says they have experienced Copen-related problems.

“In 2021 the school came across an incident of Copen drug when less than 10 male students (14yr-15yrs) from forms 2 and 3 used the drug at school.

“The case was reported to Auki police and as per their investigation; the students took the drug from an outsider who took it from Honiara over to Auki.

“Due to the fact that the drug is new, no charge was laid against the students thus police only provided awareness to them on drugs vs law and impacts it may have on them.

“Upon considering the nature of the incident and the fact that the drug was new, the school only took minor disciplinary actions against the students.

“Thus, after the incident the school incorporated the Copen drug under its school rule as one of the serious crimes that can now be amounted to termination.”

He also does not rule out the possibility of the drug’s occurrence in other schools throughout the province.

Central province’s Chief Education Officer, Andrew Kaipua similarly says Copen has infiltrated the province.

However, communities, parents, guardians, police, chiefs, and health are all working together to stamp out “this new drug – Copen”.

“The drug is not widespread in Central province schools. The only incident was in McMahon Community High earlier this year in which several students who came from Honiara were reported using and sharing the drug around to their peers.

“But, community, parents and police worked together to address the problem. Big credit to community policing and the surrounding communities for cooperating and working together towards addressing this problem.

“The provincial health team in Tulaghi also went around raising community awareness against this drug.”

Solomon Star in August this year reported “over 100 students” warned after being caught with the substance at Vonunu secondary school in the Western Province.

Later, in October, Solomon Star reported parents complaining of the growing threat of Copen on children and students in the province.

The Western province education authority could not be reached for comments.

Copen and the law

The Drugs and Alcohol unit of the RSIPF’s Community Policing programme, tells Island Sun that Copen is still to be “fully defined in the country’s law”.

Because of this, it is a huge challenge for police to tackle Copen.

An officer in the Drugs & Alcohol Unit says the issue of Copen is yet to be treated as “Alarming” or even be officially reported, which would prompt more research and actions towards it.

“We already identified that it is a new thing used by members of the community, so we are monitoring and discussing it.

“When it leads to a death or someone being a victim, then we target producers, and can charge them, even with murder. At the moment, we see someone holding it, we cannot arrest, but only warn the person on the substance.

“We do school awareness on drugs and related consequences.

“We do not have any latest report from any school having issues with the new drug. But, we include Copen in generalised awareness topics when we carry out awareness programmes to communities and schools.

“We don’t have a specific topic on Copen yet since we do not have enough information on that drug. At present, we do not have enough information that would warrant it to be considered as alarming, which would prompt us to do more research into it.”

Approaching Copen

Despite the Copen threat thriving in schools and communities, it is not yet considered that big of a problem which would warrant government action.

For the time being, it is being viewed as a problem which can still be controlled by parents and communities.

The Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs (MWYCFA) preaches that parents and communities are the frontliners to this issue.

“Different levels of responsibility. Government can be the last resort in addressing this. For now, it is the primary responsibility of parents and communities in addressing this issue,” says Loretta Taake Whitney, director – Children Development Division MWYCFA.

“Ministry has stakeholders, who have a direct role, when an issue becomes an issue, such as becoming of criminal nature, they report it to police.

“We have not received any report from our stakeholders on this.

“However, I have noted media reports of that issue (KOPEN), but we always refer back to the stakeholders.

“We acknowledge that the primary responsibility lies with the parents, followed by community. What is done in the community must be ensured that it contributes to the protection and wellbeing of the children.

“So anything adults do which is seen as harmful, the community should cooperate to ensure that such activities should be prevented. For example, community crime prevention committees facilitated by RSIPF community policing is a good way forward in ensuring that communities take up responsibility in ensuring protection for the vulnerable groups within the community such as children and youths.

“Education authorities have jurisdiction over schools under it. Each school has its own responsibility, school rules, over its student community. They should have school rules that safeguard the students.”

The high prevalence of Copen use among students and youths suggests the need for a change in approach.

A senior doctor at the national referral hospital (NRH) has called for government action.

Speaking to ABC Pacific earlier this week, Dr Pedical Togamae says this issue is a serious one and needs more action from responsible authorities.

“This issue is a serious issue where rightful authorities should take more drastic measures and get someone to study what exactly are the contents of [Copen].”

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