Revealed: a map of drug-taking across Britain

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A new survey shows a detailed picture of regional variations in the drugs that young people are taking around the United Kingdom

A new survey shows a detailed picture of regional variations in the drugs that young people are taking around the United Kingdom

Half of all school leavers in Northern Ireland have sniffed gas or solvents, while in Fraserburgh, Scotland, a third of 15- to 21-year-olds are on heroin, with cocaine usage on the increase among the under-thirties in London, according to a report published next week by The Face magazine.

The research shows that an increasing number of people, particularly those under 25, are experimenting with drugs. Recent figures released by the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence, a drug information centre, show that nearly a third of 16- to 19-year-olds are using illegal drugs on a regular basis. On average, school children start using drugs at the age of 14, and two out of five school-leavers have tried illicit drugs.

"Although it is still difficult to grasp the true nature of the illegal drug scene it is clear that it continues to be a major problem facing the UK," said Nicholas Dorn, head of research at the institute.

Drug usage varies from region to region with young people in London and the North of England showing the highest overall usage. Those in rural areas are less likely to take drugs, but drink a lot more than their urban contemporaries.

Magic mushrooms are popular with nearly a fifth of Welsh 15- to 16-year-olds. "The use of mushrooms is widespread in Wales because are so easy to obtain, growing freely on the hills," said Caroline Evans, services manager at Drugaid in Caerphilly. "A lot of young people try them at some point and it's seen as an experimental rites of passage experience."

Meanwhile, 9 per cent of Oxford University students took LSD at college for the first time, making it the second most popular drug in the city. Newcastle has the highest levels of alcohol and cigarette consumption, and young people in Bristol are using a wide range of drugs, which include cannabis, amphetamines and methadone.

In Belfast, anti-drug campaigners are warning that aerosol sniffing is on the increase, with children as young as seven getting hooked. "Solvent abuse is one of the most common problems I deal with. It's also the most dangerous," said Damon O'Reilly, an education officer at the Dunlewey substance abuse centre in Belfast. "Glue isn't common now. For the 10- and 11 year-olds it's all gas and solvents. There's an immediate danger every time someone misuses solvents. A high percentage die on the spot."

Carol-Anne, 18, from Belfast, started sniffing gas when she was 12 years old. "Everyone knows you can die from 'huffing' at any time but that's part of the excitement to be honest," she said. "People say I must have problems at home to be a sniffer, but I don't. I just like to try new things."

Warren Hawskely, the UK director of Re-Solv, a charity dedicated to dealing with solvent abuse, said the problem was becoming more serious because of the "paramilitary influence" which tended to keep hard drugs off the street.

Johnny Davis, editor of The Face, said that drugs were a normal part of many young people's lives. "The report is a chronicle of the people who supply, control and use illegal drugs in their everyday lives, without passing judgement on them," he said.

Keith Hellawell, Britain's anti-drugs co-ordinator, commented: "This report provides a mixed picture of the UK drugs scene. Drug usage affects every one of us, wherever we live. Drugs destroy lives and ravage communities, and there is no simple solution to the problem of drug misuse."