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Last Updated: Monday, 6 June, 2005, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Pupils 'reject more drug offers'
Drugs graph
Teenagers are five times more likely to have been offered illegal drugs than in the late 1980s.

But the number of school pupils actually taking drugs is similar to a decade ago, shows research from the Schools Health Education Unit.

The unit's research manager, David Regis, says this suggests that young people are being successfully taught to reject drugs.

"There is evidence here that schools' efforts are working," he says.

The report looks at changes in the availability and the use of drugs among secondary school pupils between 1987 and 2004.

'Refusal skills'

It shows a very steep increase in availability between the late 1980s and the early 2000s - with the number of 14 and 15-year-olds reporting that they had been offered drugs rising about fivefold to around one in two.

This growth in pushing drugs at school-age youngsters, which includes a range of narcotics including cannabis, ecstasy and heroin, appears to have flattened off in the past few years.

29% of youngsters have taken cannabis, says the survey

But the figures for the numbers of young people saying they have taken drugs peaked in the mid-1990s and since then has generally fluctuated between 20% and 30% of 14 to 15-year-olds.

When the sampling methods have been taken into account, this is seen as showing that illegal drug use has flattened off and remained broadly constant for the past decade.

At present, the survey finds that 29% of 14 to 15-year-olds have taken cannabis.

In the mid-1980s, before the decade-long surge in drug use, there were only about 5% of young people who had taken any illegal drug.

This overview of two decades shows a pattern of young people having a great deal more opportunity to experiment with drugs - but that since the mid-1990s, the increase in supply has not been matched by a similar surge in demand.

Dr Regis says that this could mean that the "market is saturated" in terms of how many young people are susceptible to offers of illegal drugs - and regardless of availability, larger numbers are not going to be tempted to experiment.

But he says it also demonstrates that young people are being successfully equipped with the skills to reject offers of drugs.

Drug education lessons in schools can include role play where pupils practise rejecting the temptation to experiment, he says.

"They practise in the classroom where a pupil says 'just try one, it won't do any harm' and the other pupil has to learn to find a form of words to hold their line.

"They are being trained in refusal skills and clearly a lot of young people have this capacity to refuse unwelcome offers, which is good news," said Dr Regis.

The survey from the Exeter-based unit, based on a sample of 370,000 people aged between 10 and 15, also disproved stereotypes that inner-city areas were more likely to experience drug problems than rural schools, said Dr Regis.

Instead, he said that the biggest differences were often between schools close together, but which had entirely different experiences of drug problems.

"You can walk across a road and see a dramatic difference between two schools - in one drugs are around and in the other one they are not. You can cross a street and be in a different social world," he says.

The survey also found little evidence of a widespread problem with hard drugs such as heroin.

And Dr Regis cautioned that despite the attention paid to illegal drugs, "the drugs that they are most likely to experiment with and which are most likely to kill them are tobacco and alcohol".

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