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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 11:31 GMT
One in 10 children use cannabis
cannabis smoking
Cannabis is the most common drug used by teenagers
More than one in 10 children aged between 11 and 15 have used cannabis in the past year, according to latest government figures for England.

The survey indicates that two fifths of children will have tried some form of drug before their sixteenth birthday.

Cannabis is by far the most popular drug among young teenagers, with 11% saying they had used it in the past year.

Just 1% had tried crack or cocaine in the past year and less than 0.5% had used opiates like heroin.

The survey of more than 9,000 secondary school pupils carried out late last year points to a small increase in drug use over the previous year.

The figures also shatter some popular stereotypes, revealing that "drug use was significantly lower among pupils at schools in deprived areas than those in non-deprived areas - 10% compared with 13%."

This is not, perhaps, what might be expected from the common belief that drug use is concentrated in poorer areas

Office of National Statistics

The Office of National Statistics reports says: "This is not, perhaps, what might be expected from the common belief that drug use is concentrated in poorer areas."

And pupils at schools in towns and cities are no more likely to be drug users than those from rural areas.

There was also little difference in drug use between pupils from different ethnic backgrounds, though Asian children were significantly less likely to use drugs than other children.

Self-esteem factor

Some educational factors appear to be linked with drug use, with pupils expecting to do badly in GCSEs twice as likely to use drugs as those who expected to do well and those who were not planning to sit exams.

The report adds that "this suggests that drug use in this age group may be associated with low self-esteem among pupils..."

Most of the children who had used drugs said they did so in order "to get high" and 60% obtained the drugs they used for nothing.

However, the report concludes that a relatively small proportion use drugs because their friends do and that "peer pressure is not the predominant reason for children taking drugs".
Few pupils try herion or crack

The consequences of drug taking are also highlighted in the report, with 20% of drug users admitting to having stolen money or property in the past year compared with 5% of non-users.

Drug users were five times more likely to have been in trouble with the police and five times more likely to have been excluded from school.

The number of children smoking cigarettes, meanwhile, appears to be continuing to decline, particularly among the 14 and 15 year olds.

Smoking decline

Just 9% say they are regular smokers, smoking at least once a week, compared to 13% in 1996, with girls more likely to be regular smokers than boys.

Smoking and use of other drugs appear to be closely linked - 56% of regular smokers had also used another drug in the previous month compared to less than 0.5% of those who didn't smoke.

The report also found that health education about drugs appears to be having some benefit.

"Those who had had health education in the last year on drugs were less likely than other pupils to be drug users and those who remembered having lessons smoking were less likely than those who did not to be smokers."

A spokeswoman for the Drug Education Forum said the research highlights the crucial role drug education plays in developing young people's knowledge about risks and helping them to make informed choices.

And, she pointed out: "If, as these statistics indicate, children who engage in early experimentation with drugs are more likely to try glue and gas, then it is essential that they are taught about the effects of drugs, including solvents, and the risks from an early age."

Asked about alcohol use, more than one in five pupils said they had had a drink in the previous week, with a marked difference between the age groups.

While only one in twenty 11 year olds had drunk alcohol in the previous week nearly half the 15 year olds had done so.

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See also:

07 Nov 00 | Education
'Facts not fears' curb drug use
11 Oct 00 | UK
UK tops drugs survey
06 Mar 00 | Education
Pupils' drug use 'has peaked'
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