Health Minister Sands: Government Addressing Problem Gambling and Addiction

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Minister of Health Dr. the Hon. Duane Sands addressing the Opening Session of the Problem Gambling and Addiction Awareness Month Seminar hosted by the Public Hospitals Authority and Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre in conjunction with The Bahamas Gaming Operators Association. (BIS Photo/Kristaan Ingraham)

Problem gambling has become a significant public health issue in The Bahamas, Minister of Health Dr. the Hon. Duane Sands said Monday. The Health Minister said the same is true “in other territories around the world”. Addressing a Problem Gambling and Addiction Awareness Month Seminar hosted by the Public Hospitals Authority and Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC), in conjunction with the Bahamas Gaming Operators Association, Monday, March 4, Dr. Sands said according to anecdotal data, many Bahamian families are being impacted by the effects of problem gambling. “For these persons, gaming or gambling has moved from an entertainment pastime to a full-fledged compulsive obsession,” Dr. Sands said.

The Health Minister said the American Psychiatric Association has classified problem gambling as an official disorder in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (The DSM5). This psychiatric/medical designation, Dr. Sands said, might suggest that problem gambling shares similar hallucinogenic characteristics with substance abuse disorders such as cocaine and heroin abuse. The Health Minister said recognizing the significance of the problem, the Government of The Bahamas has committed to ensuring that individuals in The Bahamas impacted by problem gambling, get the necessary help and assistance in order to make wise and responsible choices, while also receiving the assistance needed to overcome their gambling addiction.

Additionally, healthcare officials are working to integrate gambling addiction services into the existing Substance Abuse Programme at Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre and other healthcare services programmes in public and private institutions throughout the country. “Our twin goals as policymakers with respect to Games of Chance then, would be to educate those most affected by potential problem gaming and to empower them and the public at-large, with information to enable them to make wise choices about gaming and to recognize potential problem gambling in others,” Dr. Sands said. “Additionally we are working to integrate gambling addiction services into the present, existing substance abuse programme at Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre and other healthcare services programmes in public and private institutions throughout the country.

“And so while I applaud responsible gaming partners such as The Bahamas Gaming Board and The Bahamas Gaming Operators Association for their efforts in educating the public on gaming or gambling responsibly, it is critical; it is essential that the public and private healthcare systems as well as other stakeholders do more to come to the aid of those suffering from this affliction.”Dr. Sands said the Government is supporting efforts to foster greater public/private sector partnerships to meet the public health, and wellness challenges facing its citizens, including the matter of problem gambling. “Through these partnerships, we seek to support the reduction of stigma that is associated with problem and pathological gambling disorders; we seek to raise the level of awareness by employers, community organizations and families as to the acute and chronic issues surrounding gambling addiction, and we also believe that we should be developing training and Train-the-Trainer programmes for Counsellors, Educators, Allied Health Professionals, Clinicians and Human Resource Professionals to both recognize and to provide support in order to treat individuals facing gambling disorders.

“A keen observer of Games of Chance, Hunter S. Thompson once noted: ‘There are many harsh lessons to be learned from the gambling experience, but the harshest one of all, is the difference between having fun and being smart.” Dr. Sands said officials at the Ministry of Health are “keenly interested” in evidence-based best practices, gleaned from other jurisdictions worldwide, to create a model of care that works in the local context. “In charting a course for treatment and recovery of problem gambling in The Bahamas, one such evidence-based practice worthy of examination by all stakeholders is the establishment of a jurisdictional Council on Problem Gambling for The Bahamas. International Councils, or their comparable bodies, already exist throughout the world, having strategic responsibility for problem gambling awareness, prevention, treatment and recovery, research, along with policy development, designed to impact persons and their families affected by problem gambling.

“I applaud the organizers of today’s forum, led by The Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre Gambling Addiction Awareness Programme, for their vision and commitment in charting a course for assisting persons affected by problem gambling and addiction. I trust that the information gleaned from this month’s initiatives, sets the stage for collaboration and policy formation to aid in the development of a sustainable framework for addressing the emerging health care issue of problem gambling.“ It is abundantly clear that this forum is the right approach to chart a sustainable course with meaningful resources, inclusive of a functional administrative and clinical team.  It is not lost on me that this will require a substantive perpetual budget if we truly are to address the issue of problem gambling and those affected by this phenomenon,” Dr. Sands added.

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