Pupils' use of cocaine doubles
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
Last Updated: 11:48pm GMT25/03/2006
One in five secondary pupils takes illegal drugs and the use of cocaine among schoolchildren has doubled in a year, one of the biggest Government surveys of its kind said yesterday.
It found that one in 100 11-year-olds had taken a Class A drug, such as cocaine, ecstasy or heroin, and one in 10 of 15-year-olds dabbled in hard drugs.
The survey, carried out among England's 3.4 million secondary pupils, is a great embarrassment to the Government, undermining multi-million-pound campaigns such as Talk to Frank which were designed to curb drug and alcohol misuse.
Recent figures showed that deaths in the "cocaine culture" had risen by more than 600 per cent since 1996, with a record 139 deaths in 2002, despite ministers' promises of a crackdown on drug use among the young. Britain is said to have the highest level of cocaine use in Europe.
Commenting on the survey, David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "By failing to secure our porous borders, Labour has let hard drugs flow into our towns and playgrounds. By declassifying cannabis, it sent out the message that it is OK to take this drug.
"Labour should be ashamed that, after nine years in power, cocaine use among schoolboys and girls has doubled, destroying young lives and betraying a whole generation of young people."
Drink is another major problem. One in four of the 9,000 11- to 15-year-olds questioned told the Information Centre for Health and Social Care that they had had a drink in the previous week. The figure for 11-year-olds was three per cent and 50 per cent among 15-year-olds.
Prof Denise Lievesley, the centre's chief executive, said: "The survey illustrates that the levels of drugs, drink and cigarettes used by children aged 11 to 15 have remained constant for the past five years despite increased attention to such behaviour."
A quarter of pupils of all ages said they had been offered cannabis; 12 per cent had tried other drugs and four per cent had taken cocaine, heroin, ecstasy or LSD.
Six per cent of 11-year-olds said they had taken drugs in the previous year, ranging from tranquillisers to Class A drugs, compared with a third of 15-year-olds. Overall, the number of 11- to 15-year-olds who said they had taken cocaine doubled to two per cent.
Boys admitted drinking more alcohol than girls: an average of 11.5 units a week compared with 9.5 for girls.
Girls were more likely to be regular smokers (10 per cent compared with seven per cent of boys). There is also a steep increase in the prevalence of smoking with age: one per cent of 11-year-olds compared with 20 per cent of 15-year-olds.
The Department of Health's response to the report avoided any specific reference to the drugs problem, concentrating instead on alcohol.
It said: "These latest figures show that progress is being made in reducing the number of young people who have drunk alcohol in the last week and the highest number ever, since these surveys began, say they have never had a drink."