More than 30% of preteen children have been exposed to illegal drugs, according to research carried out in Glasgow and Newcastle.
Children wanted more information on drugs
The study, conducted by Glasgow University, also found that nearly 4% of the 2,000 children surveyed had actually experimented with drugs in the past.
In both cities, cannabis was the illegal drug most widely used, but it was estimated that about 60 preteen children in Glasgow had used heroin in the past and 25 in the last month.
The estimate for Newcastle was 34 10 to 12-year-olds had used heroin in the past and 17 in the last month.
Professor Neil McKeganey of the university's centre for drug misuse research said there was a need to develop more wide-ranging education programmes.
The research into legal and illegal drug use and drug exposure amongst preteen children was undertaken as part of the Department of Health drug misuse research initiative.
In their report, Professor McKeganey and Professor James McIntosh looked at the extent of drug use and exposure in 10 to 12 year olds.
Their team also examined contextual factors associated with drug use and drug exposure.
Their findings revealed:
- overall 30.7% of the 10 to 12 year olds surveyed had been exposed to illegal drugs
- 9.2% had been offered illegal drugs
- 3.9% of preteens had used illegal drugs in the past
- 1.5% had done so within the previous month
- illegal drug use was more common amongst preteens in Glasgow (5.1% past use) than in Newcastle (2.7% past use).
Gender and age were identified as being associated with drug use, with 12-year-old boys being the most likely to experiment.
Deprivation, having someone in the family who had used drugs and living with parents who exercised low levels of supervision were also seen as a key factors.
"In terms of knowledge and attitudes, the anti-heroin messages of recent years seem to have been well absorbed by this age group," the report found.
Curiosity and persuasion
"However, when invited to elaborate on their views, the majority revealed a knowledge of individual drugs that was vague, limited and frequently erroneous."
However, many expressed an interest in resources on which to base informed choices as opposed to a "just say no" approach.
Some children have used heroin
Professor McKeganey said, "One of the continuing challenges for drug education is to develop materials and approaches which are as relevant both to those young people who do not have any interest in or knowledge about illegal drugs as well as meeting the rather different needs of those pupils who have already started to use illegal drugs."
The report also concluded that the belief that drug use was largely the product of peer pressure was almost certainly wrong.
The team found that a more likely explanation was an "intricate combination of curiosity, attempts at persuasion and the child's own desire to conform".