Anti-drugs drive to aim at children

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A NATIONAL campaign to warn children against drug abuse is being prepared by a committee of Cabinet ministers in a shift of policy on fighting addiction among young people.

News of the campaign came as head teachers called for drug education for children from the age of five.

The Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by Tony Newton, Leader of the House, will report to the Prime Minister in the summer, but a Cabinet source confirmed last night that it is planning to put more emphasis on educating people against drug abuse so as to kill demand for hard drugs as well as trying to stop their supply.

The source denied there was a split between John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, over an idea to send the police into schools to warn children about drugs.

But Mr Patten, who pioneered a hard-hitting anti- drugs campaign in Ulster when he was a Northern Ireland minister, is believed to be anxious to avoid schools being used to solve all society's ills.

'We are considering the strategy, but schools must not become the target for other people's agendas,' the Cabinet source said.

Rising crime and the threat of more use of guns has forced action against drugs up the Government's agenda. Ministers are resisting growing pressure - from some police chiefs who fear they are losing the battle - for hard drugs to be legalised.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, has firmly ruled out demands by some senior police chiefs for the NHS to supply hard drugs to all 25,000 registered addicts. Ministers said this had been tried but had been stopped because the drugs had leaked on to the black market.

Mrs Bottomley has also ruled out allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis on the NHS, on the ground that its medical value is unproven.

Tony Blair, the shadow Home Secretary, yesterday intensified the pressure on ministers. He called for more emphasis on education as part of a package of anti-drugs

measures, but rejected legalisation.

Head teachers also joined the debate, saying that all children should learn about the dangers of drugs from the age of five. Many children had brothers, sisters or even parents who were involved with drugs and they were well aware of them before they started school, according to the National Association of Head Teachers.

The association's annual conference in Eastbourne will be told this week that the Government has to act to stamp out the problem, which is becoming increasingly common in schools and spreading from the inner cities to rural areas.

Liz Paver, a national council member of the association and head of Intake First School in Doncaster, said it was never too early to teach children about drugs.

Parents at her school had approached her recently for advice on the problem, she said. 'We have very young children in my area of South Yorkshire who are being introduced to nail-polish sniffing. On entry into the reception class there are some children who are already aware of drugs in their community. I don't think we can start too soon,' she said.

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