Half rugby union players admit to illegal drug use

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LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO'S alleged drug use, if proved, would be more an indicator that he was "in step with his generation" than a sign that his recreational habits were particularly abnormal, according to an expert in substance abuse.

"If drug use is not the norm, then it is far from unknown," Dr Philip Robson, a consultant psychiatrist in substance abuse at the Chiltern Clinic in Oxford, said yesterday.

Dr Robson, who works closely with Oxford University and wrote Forbidden Drugs, a book which "seeks to demystify the subject of drugs", added that people should not assume that people who use recreational drugs are all addicts who will irreversibly damage their health. "Long-term studies show that occasional and modest use [of drugs such as cannabis and cocaine] shows that the impact to physical health is very little," Dr Robson said. "There is no reason why that should be different just because someone is a well-known sportsman."

Dallaglio was quoted in the News of the World on Sundaysaying he had used cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy. Dr Robson said that problems of drug use can become severe when addictions develop and impure substances are taken, and that the issue of drug abuse was extremely serious. But he added that to tackle the problem most effectively, it is important to keep the risks in perspective.

"The way we change our views on the subject over time is remarkable," he said, and added that it would not be especially unusual for a 26-year- old man to use drugs.

Dallaglio would be far from alone among top-level English rugby players if he is proved to have used recreational drugs. In an Independent survey into drug use in British sport last December, nearly half of the rugby union players who responded admitted to having used an illegal substance for recreation purposes, including 12 per cent who had tried ecstasy and 4 per cent who had tried cocaine. The most popular drug was cannabis, with 43 per cent of the rugby union respondents admitting to having tried it at some time.

Among rugby league players who responded to the survey, 54 per cent admitted trying cannabis and 15 per cent ecstasy. Among football players, 22 per cent admitted having taken cannabis, 9 per cent ecstasy and 7 per cent cocaine. The survey was conducted anonymously and replies were received from more than 300 top-level British sportsmen and women. "There is too much concern over recreational drugs," wrote one footballer, who echoed the views of many who replied.

Recreational drug use in society as a whole is not vastly different to the drug use uncovered in the survey. A Health Education Authority national drugs survey in 1996 showed that 36 per cent of British people aged between 11 and 36 had used cannabis. In the same age group, 16 per cent had used amphetamines, 9 per cent LSD, 9 per cent magic mushrooms, 7 per cent ecstasy and 4 per cent cocaine. A spokeswoman for the HEA said that its main priority was to educate about the effects and dangers of drugs. "Our bottom line is that the safest option is not to use drugs," she said, but added that many people will do so anyway. "We need to make sure that they are armed with all the information available."

Release, the national drugs and legal charity, took a similar stance. "Lots of people experiment with drugs at some point, and most of them stop at some point," Ian Robinson, a spokesman said. "We're not going to stop people taking drugs. What we can do is minimise the harm that drugs do." Mr Robinson said that if he were asked to assess such a case, he would take a practical, rather than a moral view of a player.

"Is he a good rugby player? Is he a good captain? Does this affect his ability to do his job? These are the type of questions we would address," Mr Robinson said. The big dangers of being associated with drug use are the legal effects and the effect on employment prospects, he added. Lawrence Dallaglio now knows that all too well.

`THE INDEPENDENT' SURVEY

Do not 1-7 8-20 21-28 28+

drink units units units units

Althletic 34 54 12 0 0

Cricket 0 28 39 16 17

Football 17 33 39 9 2

Horse racing 10 35 45 10 0

Ruby union 8 27 58 8 0

Ruby league 0 54 46 0 0

Swimming 28 61 9 2 0

Tennis 32 59 4 0 5

Weightlifting** 40 40 20 0 0

All figures are percentages of respondents' replies

How many units of alcohol* per week do you drink?

* One unit of alcohol = half a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a single measure of spirits

** includes powerlifting

Other recreational drugs

Cannabis Ecstasy Cocaine

Have regularly/ Have regularly/ Have regularly/

Tried sometimes Tried sometimes Tried sometimes

Athletic 14 0 3 0 1 0

Cricket 22 0 0 0 0 0

Football 22 0 9 0 7 0

Horse racing 10 0 5 0 0 0

Ruby league 54 0 15 0 0 0

Ruby union 43 4 12 0 4 0

Swimming 22 4 6 0 4 0

Tennis 14 0 0 0 5 0

Weightlifting** 20 0 10 0 10 0

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