Survey finds 40% of teenage students take drugs

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MORE than 40 per cent of teenagers in a rural area have taken drugs at least once a month, with thousands of young heroin users spending on average about pounds 170 a week to fund their habit, according to a survey released yesterda, writes Jason Bennetto.

The addicts are turning to drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes, researchers say. Last year health officials questioned 3,746 sixth-form students aged 16 to 19 in Hampshire. The sample is believed to be a conservative estimate because the students are more academically able than average and do not come from large urban areas where drug abuse is more prevalent.

About 1,500 of the sample took drugs. The most common was cannabis, with almost two in five using it. About 500 students (14 per cent), took LSD and amphetamines. Some 300 (8 per cent) took ecstasy, and 67 took heroin. The last group are believed to be addicts.

Researchers from the Lodden Community NHS Trust, who carried out the survey, estimate that there are at least 2,500 heroin addicts in Hampshire. Assuming a daily habit of a quarter of a gramme of heroin the addicts spend pounds 434,000 a week.

Superintendent Derek Good, of Hampshire Police, told the Police Superintendents' Association's annual conference: 'These are not wealthy people - they are almost all unemployed - and that money is coming from trafficking . . . or other crime.'

He added: 'Forty per cent of those young people had at least experimented in the past month - not I would suggest the seeds of a drug culture, but an active growth.'

The association was also told about an initiative in Hampshire in which primary school children are given drug awareness lessons from uniformed officers. They are also told about glue sniffing, alcohol and smoking.

The association overwhelmingly voted to reject any moves to decriminalise drugs.