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Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Jo, 19, began using heroin at the age of 15
The extent to which schoolchildren are using drugs or other substances is not known for sure - that goes with the territory.

Surveys suggest that use is widespread - at least in the sense of trying things - but that it might have reached a plateau in the mid-90s and might even be declining.

Headlines about the extremes - an eight-year-old boy addicted to heroin - should serve as a warning about the wide availability of a range of substances, often to children of very tender years.

Those substances include alcohol and tobacco, and also solvents - but it is not actually illegal merely to possess drugs such as GHB or ketamine.
Martin Buczkiewicz
Martin Buczkiewicz: "Education will make a difference"
Martin Buczkiewicz of the children's health charity Tacade has long experience of the issue. He says children encounter drugs from a variety of sources - one of which might be finding their parents' stashes.

"The other source may well be their older brothers or children in the neighbourhood where that is more or less a normal pattern of life," he said.

"It isn't seen as any big deal that, you know, we've got cannabis around, we've got these tabs around and it's part of the youth sub-culture."

The fightback by the authorities - aside from using the police and Customs to attack the supply of drugs - is to try to educate youngsters about them, rather than just saying: "Don't" - although the alarm about the increased use of heroin is such that a "Just say no" message is being reinforced.

The thinking is that if children are treated responsibly they will behave responsibly.

Life skills

The education is in the context of overall health. The Department for Education says: "To single out drug education for separate treatment may risk glamorising the subject ....

Drugs in Schools
"However a programme of drug education is organised, the essential aim should be to give pupils the facts, emphasise the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and give young people the knowledge and skills to make informed and responsible choices now and later in life."

There are similar messages across the UK. The Welsh Office, for instance, says: "Drug education programmes need to be flexible and responsive to changing fashions and trends in drug misuse and to provide a credible and consistent message ... teaching about drug and substances misuse is unlikely to have any lasting effect if the lesson is given in isolation or as a one off response to a drug related incident in the school."

Making a difference

Martin Buczkiewicz says he believes the policy is working.

"We've done research on some of our programmes which shows that children feel better about themselves, more able to ask for support," he said.

"I think that often what happens is that ... it's like traffic lights: there's the red light then there's the amber light, that little amber light that maybe will make them stop and think and then - the green - act upon it, act upon their decision which in that millisecond has flashed through their mind.

"I firmly believe and remain optimistic that we cannot neglect that fact that in the all-round development of the young person that drug education and life skills education will make a difference."

Martin Buczkiewicz
"It starts in primary school"

What are the sources?

Is it dangerous to 'teach drugs'?
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