Drug tsar to target `rich kid' addicts

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The Independent Online
YOUNG MIDDLE-CLASS "recreational" drug users are to be targeted in a national anti-drugs campaign that will stress the harmful impact on the environment and human rights of taking illegal substances.

Warnings about the long jail sentences that drug convictions can carry and the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs will also be used to frighten off "recreational" users, including university students. The switch in tactics is to be introduced by Keith Hellawell, Britain's drugs "tsar", following concern that campaigns are failing to reach young "achievers" and clubbers.

Mr Hellawell, in an interview with The Independent, also revealed that he will encourage the makers of television soap operas, including Coronation Street and EastEnders, to include story lines that highlight the consequences of taking drugs. He is to meet regional newspaper, radio, and television editors to urge them to include more information about the long prison sentences involved and the medical and social repercussions of drug-taking. Schools will also be encouraged to teach students the jail terms drug offences carry.

The move is an attempt to persuade what Mr Hellawell terms the "rich kids", university students and clubgoers, into giving up drugs. He is particularly worried that research suggests that heroin is being used as a "recreational" drug and that the young "achievers" believe they can take substances, such as ecstasy, cocaine and cannabis, without harmful effects.

Mr Hellawell, the UK's Drugs Co-ordinator, said: "I am talking about a group of `rich young kids' - young achievers in their late teens and early 20s who don't have to commit crime to pay for their drugs.

"They are critical of people who drink and drive, of human rights and pollution." He added: "If you look at why most people are involved in drugs you find deprivation, lack of care and social exclusion."

But there were others, he said, who used drugs recreationally who do not come from that deprived group.

"It's quite a substantial group that's a more recent phenomena. But they don't necessarily need the same initiatives as the first group. The issues that seem to work with this group are the medical, legal and social consequences."

On environmental issues, he said that millions of drug needles end up in children's playgrounds, on beaches and in the countryside.

"Human rights is another issue - you can explain to young people that some organisations involved in drug production have appalling human rights records. They are supporting these people by using drugs."

He gave the example of the Taliban, an extremist Islamic group who control most of Afghanistan, which produces much of the UK's heroin.

The Taliban has banned women from working and forced them to cover up, banned music, television and alcohol, and ordered men to pray five times daily in a mosque.

He believes most young people are ignorant of the law on drugs.

He cited the example of two recent visits to a comprehensive school in Middlesbrough and a private school in Solihull, near Birmingham, where he asked groups of 14 to 17-year- olds what was the maximum penalty for being caught in possession of 12 ecstasy tablets.

The answers ranged from a "slap on the hand", to two years' imprisonment. "They were visibly shaken when I told them they could get life in prison," said Mr Hellawell.