Youngsters ask drug tsar: Have you been a user?

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YOUNG people yesterday asked the government drug tsar Keith Hellawell whether he had ever taken drugs.

The question to Mr Hellawell and his deputy, Mike Trace, came at a consultation forum for young people at the Ministry of Sound nightclub in south London. Mr Trace, a former outreach worker with drug users, said he had partaken in the past, although he did not disclose which drugs; Mr Hellawell said he had not.

Mr Hellawell and Mr Trace were quizzed by 80 young people aged 15 to 25 who had travelled from as far away as Newcastle and Cornwall to attend the meeting, which was organised by the National Youth Agency.

Emma Gosling, a 20-year-old from Reading, said she had used most drugs. "I think cannabis should be decriminalised and then the public should be educated before the rest are legalised," she said.

She was not confident her views would be listened to: "They ought to listen to us," she said. "We are the young people, we will be running the country in 20 years' time. Today ought to make a difference but I doubt it will."

In response to Ms Gosling's question "what gives you the right to tell me what to do", Mr Hellawell said: "I don't think you have to have had experience of drugs to do my job. If you follow that argument doctors could only treat people whose illnesses they have experienced."

Christopher Flockhart, 17, from Newark, said he did not think drugs should be legalised. "If it is for medical purposes then I'm OK about it, but hard drugs can kill people," she said.

Matt Broadbent, a 19-year-old from Brighton, asked Mr Hellawell how he justified making natural drugs, such as cannabis and magic mushrooms, illegal.

Christine Widdowfield, 23, from Middlesbrough, said she had seen friends become heroin addicts. "There should be more outreach workers," she said. "They should educate people more. I hope we will be listened to."

Mr Trace said it was important to show young people that their views were taken seriously. "When I was young nothing would reassure me that I was being listened to," he said. "In the end government is government - they are men in suits. But we don't have to do things like this. We're trying to show people we're willing to talk."