Spot drug tests for children of nine

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The Independent Online
Would-be football stars as young as nine are being randomly tested for drugs at the 147 centres of excellence across England & Wales.

Alan Hodson, of the Football Association's drugs control programme, told the Association of Chief Police Officers' national drugs conference that 10,000 youngsters aged between nine and 16 could be tested in unannounced spot checks at any of the centres.

News meanwhile emerged of the latest device by prisoners for getting round drugs tests in jails. Some prisoners have already switched from cannabis to heroin because heroin flushes out of the bloodstream more quickly.

Now, according to last night's BBC Radio 4 File on 4, inmates are using a mixture of heroin and paracetamol known as "Two Card" in which the purity level of the drug is reduced so that it becomes un- detectable in urine tests. The mix is known as "Two Card" because it often costs two phone cards in prison currency.

Mr Hodson told the ACPO conference in Hinckley, Leicestershire, that it was not unusual for promising teenage foot- ballers to be pestered by drug pushers between five and six times during an evening in night clubs.

"I don't think that we all realise what pressures there are," Mr Hodson said. "When we have got pushers and peddlers bringing things down to pounds 1.50 for a pill, that's pocket money stuff."

The young footballers have their urine samples collected by the Sports Council and analysed at King's College, London. The council bears most of the pounds 230 cost of each test. Any youngster testing positive is then sent to a drugs assessor and must comply with the recommendations in a report, Mr Hodson said.

"They may then be banned from playing until the FA says so and must agree to target tests if they resume playing."

He said that of 500 random tests carried out last season, five were positive - three youths and two professionals.

George Howarth, the Home Office minister, told the conference: "I refuse to accept that drugs have become part of growing up.

"Just one in four young people has taken drugs in the past year and even fewer - just one in seven - has done so in the last month.

"But these figures are too high. The Government is determined to repair those communities damaged by drug use by getting young people into employment and drug users into treatment."

Another speaker at the conference, Professor Howard Parker of Manchester University, called for a drugs-cau-tioning system for the personal use of cannabis.

"On the other hand, I would like to see drug-driving taken far more seriously."

Prof Parker claimed that some police officers simply disposed of cannabis seized from people because they did not want to deal with the paperwork.

Although a cautioning system for the personal use of cannabis would effectively decriminalise the drug, Prof Parker said afterwards that he was not in favour of decriminalisation as such.

"It's not realistic. We are not a mature enough society."