`Ministers out of touch with reality'

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CHILDREN FROM Kids Company, an after-school club in Camberwell, south-east London, suggested that while the state should provide help for addicts, the Government was out of touch with the reality of youngsters' drug use.

Stephanie Lucas, 13, said that it was difficult to get young people to listen to advice: "Teachers used to tell us about drugs, but nobody listened. They just think the teachers are stupid. The Government should stop putting posters up.

"The more they put posters up, the more people are going to do it - because people take drugs to show off and to behave badly. I know people who take cannabis. Then they'll move on to heroin and coke to show off even more."

But Marlon Bennett, 14, agreed with Keith Hellawell, the Government's drugs czar, for emphasis on treatment rather than punishment: "Sending them to jail isn't going to help them. They need tablets to help them come off the drugs."

He thought the Government was wise to target the young: "The younger you take drugs the more it's going to mess you up. Young people are first to try things out. Some people take drugs just to prove something."

Jason Jones, 16, said: "The Government can't help. They don't know what everyone feels like unless they've done it themselves. Everyone has their own reasons.

"Some people like it for pleasure. Cannabis is a religion for certain people, so you mustn't take it away from them. The Government should show people that it's not good for them and that it's killing them. If someone is in a bad situation they should have places to go where they can talk."

Dwayne Grandison, 17, said that people took drugs if they were "stressed out or depressed": "Some people have got no parents, so they might as well do it for a living. They've got nothing to live for.

"The Government is right to try and help them get off it," he said. Prison didn't help, as prisoners still took it: "The Government should try and stop it being imported."

Lauren Brown, 14, said "all her friends" smoked cannabis: "They think they're cool. I don't think it's cool. I tried it once but I didn't like it. If they like it that's their problem. It's no worse than alcohol. When people start drinking they beat their wives."