MPA calls on government to hasten making Copen illegal

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Copen Drug. Photo Supplied.Photo By SOLOMON TIMES ONLINE.
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BY IRWIN ANGIKI

The former provincial ward member for Wagina, Ward 1 Choiseul province is calling on the national government to hasten making the so-called new drug – Copen illegal.

Mofete Tupou, while welcoming Health Minister Culwick Togamana introducing the Copen issue into parliament early this week, believes that time is a crucial factor.

Wagina school teacher Mr Eribati also supports this call, saying he has witnessed his students’ academic performance dragged down by Copen.

And, a Solomon Islander living in Kiribati warns the Copen problem can get ‘very serious’ if government overlooks it.

A community leader’s dilemma

One obstacle handicapping leaders from stopping Copen usage and production in their communities is Copen not yet being nationally recognised as an illegal entity, or even as a drug, Mr Tupou said.

He shares that Copen is normalised in his community, Wagina – it is sold and consumed openly by both children and adults.

Tupou says he has received stiff resistance from many in his community when he voiced plans to create a by-law against Copen.

“Early this year, I shared my plan to create a by-law targeting the production and usage of Copen and received hostile reception from a lot of my people here, including parents, relatives of users and producers, even elders of the communities here.

“In our deliberations and arguments over the Copen issue, I always end up cornered without any answer when they ask me if Copen is illegal.

“They have a valid point because Copen is not illegal, and this is because it has not yet fully caught the attention of the national government and relevant authorities.

“But, I am saying that now is the time to act. Monday this week the Health Minister introduced Copen to the parliament. What we would like to hear next is it has been gazetted as an illegal entity.”

Tupou says it is difficult to remove Copen from his community because a ‘majority’ of people on Wagina use the substance, more so, many rely on it as an income earner.

A teacher’s sad observation

Eribati, with 20 years of teaching experience, says students using Copen are lagging behind in their education compared to those who are not users.

He said since 2018 when he first saw Copen in his community, he has seen bright students slide down the academic ladder once they got hooked to Copen.

“It had struck me that some of my top students started performing low, and later I would learn that they were addicted to the new drug that we were just starting to experience in 2018.

“Following years, this sad trend continued and grew worse as more students became hooked to Copen. Now, my top students are those that do not indulge in Copen use.

“In class it is very clear. Student users would become restless and agitated after the first period, and would excuse themselves to visit the loo, but we all know that they are going out for a Copen dose.

“When I tried suggesting banning Copen to be included in school rules, I met resistance from other parents, guardians and other staff. Their main argument is Copen is not illegal according to Solomon Islands laws.

“So, I took it upon myself to make it my classroom rule. I told students that I will not tolerate Copen in my class.

“Government should make it a law to ban Copen, its use and production, so that it will enable us to incorporate it into our school rule.”

Grim warning from Kiribati

Tupou says Copen was introduced into the country by Kiribati Solomon Islanders who travelled over to mainland Kiribati and brought back the substance plus the idea to produce it with them.

He puts this around 2017.

A Solomon Islander living in Kiribati who asks only to be named as Mary warns the Copen problem must not be taken lightly.

Speaking to Island Sun this week, she said in Kiribati ‘Couben’ [Copen] is rife and is recognised by communities there that it is a problem, allowed to reach an uncontrollable stage by authorities who had overlooked it.

“I am not sure if it is illegal or not. One thing for sure is although it is very common here, people deal it under cover.

“Users range from children to adults. While it is a stimulant that can be used in kava sessions, and other social gatherings, Couben has been blamed for low school performance of children, domestic violence, petty domestic nuisance such as stealing, health problems, and is also rumoured to be the cause behind some oral cancer cases here.

“Solomon Islands is still at the stage in which it can turn the tide on Couben. But it would mean national government and relevant authorities step in and make the necessary legislations, and fast.

“Do not leave communities, families and individuals to fight it alone,” Mary warns.

Meanwhile, Island Sun had reported in early November on the extent of Copen’s spread in the country.

Apart from Temotu and Makira-Ulawa provinces, Copen has penetrated schools and communities across the country.

In Honiara, where Copen is reportedly most prevalent, even prestigious Government and church-run schools are facing challenges with the substance.

In Renbel province, it was reported that Copen is suspected to be connected to the death of a youth earlier this year.

Mass disciplinary suspension of students has been reported across many of Honiara’s city council and government schools. In the Western province, a similar situation was reported in one of the major schools there earlier this year.

The ministry of women and youth (MWYCFA) had told Island Sun that government’s approach was to leave the Copen problem to be dealt with at the family and community level. [This is bound to change after the Ministry of Health (MHMS) announced in parliament it would investigate Copen]

Police has also admitted that they cannot do much except do community awareness because Copen is not recognised by law to be a drug, nor an illegal one.

Copen is taken orally, and is produced using household items such as colgate and food colouring.

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