Girls use narcotics to diet and keep 'healthy': Research shows fastest growing group of drug takers is female

TEENAGE GIRLS are, for the first time, taking as many drugs as boys. Many girls now see certain narcotics as a 'healthy' way to keep slim and fit.

Unpublished research carried out in Greater Manchester and Merseyside schools last autumn shows a disturbing new trend of growing drug abuse among young women.

The survey reveals that girls aged 15 and 16 are experimenting with 'hard' drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, as well as 'softer' illegal substances, such as a cannabis and LSD, as much as males of the same age.

Girls were also found to drink as much as boys in single boozing sessions, although their weekly alcohol consumption was less. Twice as many girls smoke as boys.

The study, by Manchester University, disclosed last week that about half the 15- and 16-year-old pupils questioned had taken drugs. About a quarter are considered to be regular drug users. This reflects the growing use of narcotics by youngsters.

However, researchers were surprised to discover that the fastest growing group of drug users is now female.

Anonymous questionnaires were completed by 752 pupils at eight schools. The sample was a representative cross-section of north-west England in terms of class and ethnic origin. Trick questions were included to catch out liars and 'rogue' answers were excluded to maintain accuracy.

The study found that there was no statistical difference between boys and girls in the consumption of all drugs. The most popular drug is cannabis, which 40 per cent have tried; 25 per cent have taken LSD; 22 per cent poppers - a type of solvent containing amyl nitrate; 15 per cent speed or amphetamine sulphate; 13 per cent solvents; 12 per cent magic mushrooms; 7 per cent Ecstacy; 5 per cent tranquillisers; 4 per cent cocaine; and 3 per cent heroin.

About three-quarters of the girls had been offered drugs, compared with two- thirds of the boys.

This is the second year Professor Howard Parker and Fiona Measham at the Department of Social Policy and Social Work have carried out the study. In the first year, 36 per cent of the children, then aged 14 and 15, had tried drugs, compared with 47 per cent in the most recent study. In the first year under 1 per cent had tried heroin or cocaine, and only 13 per cent had taken LSD.

Ms Measham said: 'We are seeing the spiralling use of drugs and drink by young women from all social classes. For the first time young women are more than matching boys for exposure to drugs and general risk taking.

'Health and fitness is seen as part of the attraction of some of the drugs, especially those used in raves. They act as an appetite represser and enable the user to dance for hours.

'Young women are also attracted to pill popping rather than injecting, which is seen as an unfashionable and dangerous 1980s activity.'

The low cost of drugs such as LSD, which costs about pounds 2 for one dose, and Ecstacy, which costs about pounds 15 a tablet, is also part of their attraction.

While previous studies have shown a rise in the number of girls using drugs, it has usually been of the softer variety, such as solvents. A Mori poll based on 4,436 interviews with 16- to 19-year-olds in 1990 found 37 per cent of boys had tried drugs compared with 26 per cent of girls. A study by Exeter University in 1991 found the gap had narrowed, but teenage boys were still taking more narcotics than girls.

The new study also found that boys and girls drink, on average, nine units of alcohol - four and a half pints of lager or nine whiskies - per session. Young women are attracted to designer drinks such as strong bottled ciders and lagers, aperitifs, fortified wines and novelty cocktails. A third of drinkers had more than 10 units per session.

Researchers believe drink manufacturers are deliberately trying to attract young woman with products that stress their high alcohol content and designer image.

(Photograph omitted)

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