Battle to combat rural drug problem

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The Independent Online
PARENTS in rural areas are refusing to support community drug prevention projects because they fear nosey neighbours will suspect a family member has a drug problem.

Home Office research has shown that suspicious attitudes and reluctance to accept that drug abuse is a rural issue are hampering efforts to combat rising drug dependency in country areas. Drug users are scared of seeking help for fear of being identified and subjected to constant monitoring of their behaviour by the local community. The report calls for rural drug services to be sited in public buildings and made available on busy market days to give clients a greater chance of anonymity.

George Howarth, the drugs minister, has asked for the findings to be incorporated into the new strategy being overseen by Keith Hellawell, the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator.

The study, Drugs Prevention in Rural Areas: An Evaluation Report, was written for the Home Office by the researcher Sheila Henderson and examined drug issues in rural areas of Somerset, Essex, Leicestershire and Sussex.

In Somerset, many people refused to accept a drug problem existed. Parents were reluctant to help with a prevention project which was forced to exist in a garden shed for eight months. Nevertheless, previous research had shown one in four 11- to 18-year- olds in the area had experience of illicit drug use.

Some parents showed astonishing ignorance of drug issues. One said she had thought a needle exchange was a sewing shop. "I'm not stupid," she said. "I really think that's about the level most parents are at."

By contrast, the Home Office research shows many drug workers in rural communities are treated as outsiders and local people are often sceptical of their methods.

The report recommends that drug workers ally themselves with parish clerks, who are often "gatekeepers" to the community. The study also shows a marked gap between rural young and their parents.

In contrast to previous generations of teenagers, who were more isolated and had to make their own entertainment, modern rural youngsters no longer feel cut off from urban culture. The report says: "Rural residence does not preclude participation in the 'club culture', as young people travel long distances for entertainment, and many dance events take place in the countryside."

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