Britain's Drugs Crisis: Abuse by children at record level: The young: Number of users doubles every two years, while age of experimentation falls to 14 as availability increases

RECORD numbers of children and young people are taking drugs in Britain, with an increasing range of illegal substances on offer.

There is also growing evidence that the age at which the young start to experiment has dropped in the last few years from 16 to about 14, though the bulk of drug education is still aimed at older children. Drug workers are also finding a significant number of children aged 10 and 11 are abusing substances such as solvents. A child of seven was the youngest to have been counselled for drug abuse at a project in London.

The largest national survey of drug use among the young reveals that the number of users has doubled every two years. Another study in the north-west of England shows that about half have taken drugs by the age of 16.

One of the most distinctive changes is the widespread use of 'soft drugs' among young people and the acceptance that they are part of their lifestyle and recreation, rather than something dangerous and difficult to obtain.

Cannabis is by far the most popular drug. It has become so commonplace in some regions that it is considered the 'norm' for teenagers to smoke it and a recent study found that it was so freely available in some areas that youngsters did not realise it was illegal.

Children often experiment with solvents, such as glue, Tipp-Ex, hairspray, air fresheners, and lighter fuel, before moving on to other drugs.

LSD is growing in popularity, with cards impregnated with the drug in the shape of bright designs selling for pounds 2. The low cost of the drug and a decline in the quality of ecstasy has boosted its appeal.

Other drugs, such as the sleeping pill temazepam, are also widely used by the young, but it is the diversity and availability of illegal substances that is distinctive about the young generation.

The use of heroin, cocaine and crack still remains rare among young people. They are perceived as 'hard' drugs that are used by addicts, rather than by people looking for a 'good time'.

A survey of 752 pupils at schools in 1992 in Greater Manchester and Merseyside found that 47 per cent had taken drugs by the age of 16; 41 per cent had tried cannabis; 25 per cent LSD; 22 per cent amyl nitrite - a type of stimulant; 15 per cent amphetamine sulphate; 13 per cent solvents; 12 per cent magic mushrooms; 7 per cent ecstasy; while only a few had tried cocaine and heroin. The survey showed 71 per cent had been in situations where drugs were offered.

Further evidence comes from a health study of 25,000 children, carried out by Exeter University. In 1989, 11 per cent of boys and 9 per cent of girls had tried drugs in the 15-16 age group, while in 1991 the figure had risen to 23 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls.

Six per cent of pupils aged 12-13 had tried illegal drugs or solvents, rising to 11 per cent at age 13-14, and 19 per cent at 14-15.

Ian Wardle of Lifeline, the drugs information service in the North-west of England, said: 'The growth in the 14- and 15-year-old age group has happened over the last few years. Until recently we thought we were dealing with a small minority, now clearly we are talking about a very significant minority that in some areas is more than 50 per cent of the teenage population.'

Most teenagers get their drugs from friends, contacts made at school and in their community, and older brothers and sisters, who usually obtain them from small-time dealer-users. The growth in the dance and club scene has also brought many drugs, particularly ecstasy and LSD, within the reach of young people.

There is also growing evidence that youngsters in rural areas are finding it increasingly easy to obtain drugs from dealers. They are likely to use solvents, cannabis and magic mushrooms.

The low cost of many drugs is another reason for their growing popularity. The young can get high on illegal substances for less than the cost of a pint of lager. Studies in the North-east have found that many teenage drug users now regard drinkers as 'beer monsters' rather than role models.

Drugs have become an accepted part of many teenagers' lives. One drugs worker said: 'Youngsters are being offered drugs on the street, in trains, buses, the metro - everywhere. Parents and teachers are oblivious to what is going on.

'Drug use is no longer abnormal behaviour, it has become part of society and is becoming accepted as the normal behaviour among youngsters.'

Willie McBride, co-ordinator of Crew 2000, a drugs project in Edinburgh, said: 'Drug use for hundreds of thousands of young people has just become part and parcel of their recreation and fun.'

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
people
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Engineer

£28000 - £34000 per annum + excellent bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: In...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

Software Engineer - C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor