The results will be used in anti-drug programmes tailored to each region's problems. Police and regional health authorities will jointly run the schemes. For some years senior officers have been pressing for more preventive measures and treatment programmes rather than simply stiffer penalties.
The Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) drugs committee is drawing up details of the survey and is discussing finance with a private sponsor.
Confidential questionnaires will be sent to secondary-school pupils asking about drug habits, what substances they take, where they get them and what influences their choice. The police believe too little is understood about drug habits of the young and fear society is failing to curb the popularity of illegal substances.
Ray White, Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys and the new president of the Acpo, said tackling the problem was going to be a key aim in the coming year: "We do not have a clear national picture of drug use among the young ...We believe a large national survey to establish the scale of the drug problem is a vital first step. Drugs dominate the whole question of crime. The two are totally inter-related. Serious drug abuse is probably the greatest worry parents have about their children. Our means of measuring progress in this field at the moment is very crude. The number of arrests and seizures are not reliable enough indicators - they can be affected by the level of resources."
The survey will give details of the drug trends in different parts of the country. For example, Glasgow has a problem with heroin and Temazepam, while parts of south London have more trouble with crack cocaine and amphetamines.
Mr White said it was intended to do the survey by the end of next year and have a follow-up study five years later, to see if the strategies worked.
Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, said he would support the survey: "We don't know enough about youngsters' drug habits. I hope a survey will help pin down why drug habits vary so much between different areas. If you can identify the variations, this will help you deal with the problems."Reuse content