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Wednesday, November 5, 1997 Published at 05:54 GMT


Young drug users not unrespectable, says report

A 'sad loser' or not?

Stereotypes of young recreational drug users as "sad losers" are totally misleading, according to a new report.

Most are outgoing, independent young people who are trusted and respected by their families and view drug-taking as part of their social lives, says the study by the Demos think-tank.

The report, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says stereotypes of youngsters who use illicit drugs at parties, clubs and other social settings are misleading in the formation of anti-drugs campaigns.

Britain's Labour government has appointed an anti-drugs co-ordinator, known as the Drugs Czar, to review laws on drugs after a heated media debate over whether cannabis should be legalised.

Recent surveys suggest that 36% of under 29-year-olds in Britain have experimented with drugs, with cannabis and ecstasy being the most common.

The Demos report, which questioned more than 850 young people in six different areas of Britain, says most young drug users mature out of drug-taking by themselves.

"The conventional stereotypes are often that young people who take drugs are sad losers, excessive short-termists with no conception of their career," said Demos director Perri 6.

"Those stereotypes apply to a very, very small number of people."

Demos says the findings show that programmes which involve blanket condemnations of drug-taking are unlikely to influence young people.

"The most useful role for the government's Drugs Czar would be to champion the spread of local preventative programmes and to spread the word about best practice," the report said.

According to an EU report, one in eight Britons under the age of 40 used cannabis in the past year, more than in any other European country.

Young Britons also use more amphetamines, Ecstasy and LSD than citizens of other EU countries, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

A survey conducted in 10 private and 59 state schools, published in 1996, found that the use of hard and soft drugs by 15 and 16-year-olds had soared in the past seven years.

Nearly half of 15 and 16-year-olds admitted that they had tried illegal drugs, with 38% of the girls and 43.6% of the boys saying that they had tried cannabis.

In contrast, a 1989 survey of 7,000 young people in England by the Health Education Authority found that 15% of girls and 22% of boys had used cannabis.

But fears that Britain is in the grip of an escalating drug crisis were challenged in September after the largest survey of drug misuse yet conducted showed that drug-taking was not part of normal behaviour for the vast majority of young people.

The Home Office survey of 11,000 households suggested that the number of people aged 16-29 using drugs had stabilised, with no significant increase between 1994 and 1996.

Cannabis was the most widely-used drug, followed by amphetamines, LSD, magic mushrooms, amyl nitrate and Ecstasy.

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