Scare tactics ditched in drugs fight

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

A glossy guide to taking illegal drugs safely and a national helpline offering advice on any aspect of drug use are key elements in a government initiative which has abandoned the "scare tactics" of previous campaigns.

The pounds 14m three-year campaign, launched just a week after the death of Leah Betts, 18, who took a single ecstasy tablet, marks a new pragmatism in dealing with the escalating problems of drug abuse among teenagers.

Young people who are considering taking drugs will have access to "all the information at hand to make an informed decision," according to the first issue of D-Mag, which provides straightforward facts about drugs, their health risks, and first aid advice.

David Arnold, director of the drugs publicity campaign, which is being run by the Health Education Authority, said drug-taking was not glamourised or condoned by the magazine.

"This campaign acknowledges the positive beliefs about drugs but strongly counters this with facts about health risks. There is a serious level of ignorance," Mr Arnold said.

Preliminary findings from an HEA survey of 5,000 children and young people across the country, aged between 11 and 24, show that more than 60 per cent regard health risks as the most important reason to stop taking drugs. A further 31 per cent said they did not know any of the health risks involved with ecstasy, and a further 42 per cent knew nothing of the hazards of taking LSD.

The 24-hour helpline, which offers free and confidential advice to callers, was "essential" to the success of the new campaign, Mr Arnold said. "Getting [the helpline number] in front of every young person and their parents is the main purpose of today's launch."

t The National Drugs Helpline: 0800 77 66 00.