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Monday, 6 March, 2000, 10:45 GMT
Pupils' drug use 'has peaked'
drugs
One in eight had used a drug recently
The number of younger teenagers in the UK who have tried an illegal drug peaked in the mid-90s and might be on the way down, according to a long-term study.

A report from the Schools Health Education Unit in Exeter - the fourth it has produced - concentrates on the experience of drugs of those aged under 15.


Aged 14-15:
12% had used an illegal drug in the past month
39% knew where to get an illegal drug
58% "fairly sure or certain" they knew a drug user
44% offered a drug at some time
21% had tried one
"In our previous 1998 report, we presented evidence that young people's reported personal experience of illegal drug use, which had been rising steadily since 1987, had shown signs of levelling off in 1997," said research manager David Regis.

With the new data "we are confident that there has indeed been a levelling-off, and possibly even a downturn, in this age group's experience of drugs," he said.

The new survey is based on the responses of 40,229 pupils aged nine to 15 around the UK.

The figures come from a section in a more general questionnaire about health-related behaviour, which over the years has been completed by more than half a million primary and secondary schoolchildren.

'Czar effect'

Survey manager Anne Wise said the findings did appear to be good news.

The apparent downturn in usage is attributed to "the czar effect" - a reference to the government's "drugs czar" - the anti-drugs co-ordinator, Keith Hellawell, who was appointed in 1996.

"I'm not saying he's the direct cause of that downward movement but I think there's been renewed energy and attention towards young people and drug-taking, and a greater movement in health and education to try to educate youngsters about the culture of drugs and what it's all about.

"There's not really any simple method that works, it's just this general approach whether in education or from the health education people, a kind of blanket approach will hit different people in different areas.

"This may be why we are seeing a downward trend - it's not just left to one organisation.

"What is a simple message to somebody, just won't hit home to somebody else, which is why you need a variety of approaches and ways of tackling any problem really - drugs just being one of them."

Safety awareness

Keith Hellawell's office said in a statement that he welcomed the survey as "an important contribution" to increasing the information about drugs use in schools.

Drugs in Schools
One of the questions the children were asked was how safe or unsafe they thought drugs were.

At the age of 12 to 13, half the pupils said cannabis was "always unsafe" but this had dropped to 35% by the ages of 14 to 15 - and a quarter of that age group said they knew where to get hold of some.

Asked what had happened when they were first offered cannabis, about one in eight of the younger pupils said they had accepted and more than a quarter of the older ones said they had done so.

The main reason was given as "curiosity". The main reason for refusing was not potential danger but "fear of getting into trouble with their parents".

Younger pupils, up to age 11, were also asked who they would like to talk to them about illegal drugs - if anyone. Sixty per cent wanted their parents to, 30% their teachers.

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See also:

17 Nov 99 | Education
Teacher training to beat drugs
05 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Hellawell: Relax cannabis policing
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