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More Children Trying Cannabis and Other Drugs - Survey
By Lyndsay Moss, PA Health Correspondent
More schoolchildren in England are reporting trying drugs such as cannabis at least once, a report revealed today.
Almost a third (30%) of youngsters aged 11 to 15 surveyed in 2003 said they had ever taken illegal drugs, up from 27% in 2002.
Of these 12% had taken drugs in the last month before the survey and 21% in the last year, according to Government statistics.
The figures showed many young people were smoking regularly and drinking alcohol.
In 2003, 9% of pupils aged 11-15 were regular smokers.
While only 1% of 11-year-olds enjoyed frequent cigarettes, more than a fifth (22%) of 15-year-olds were regular smokers.
Girls were more likely to smoke than boys ? with 11% of girls saying they were regular smokers in 2003 compared to 7% of boys.
Last year 26% of boys and 24% of girls said that had had an alcoholic drink in the last week.
But this rose to 49% of 15-year-olds, compared to only 6% of 11-year-olds.
The figures came from a survey of more than 10,300 pupils carried out by the Office for National Statistics.
Their report ? Drug use, smoking and drinking among young people in England in 2003 ? showed that more work was needed if the Government was going to improve the health and well-being of school children.
The figures showed that cannabis was the most commonly taken drug, with 13% having taken it in the last year ? followed by volatile substances like solvents (8%), poppers (4%) and magic mushrooms (2%).
The numbers taking cannabis increased sharply with age, with just 1% of 11-year-olds having tried it in the last year compared to almost a third (31%) of 15-year-olds.
Messages from adults about the danger of taking drugs appeared to be going unheeded.
In 1999, 61% of pupils agreed that adults told the truth about drugs, falling to 58% in 2001.
But by 2003 only 44% believed they were getting a truthful picture about drugs from parents and teachers.
The report said: ?It is unusual to see such a degree of change in an attitude over a relatively short time period and this represents a major negative attitudinal shift in believing what adults tell young people about drugs.
?So although young people on the whole listen to what adults tell them about drugs, only a minority believe what they are being told.?
In 2003, 42% of pupils said they had been offered drugs ? up from 40% in 2002.
The average consumption of alcohol among schoolchildren in 2003 was 9.5 units a week, rising to 11.3 units for 15-year-olds.
Pupils were turning away from softer drinks, such as shandy, and towards spirits.
The proportion drinking spirits in the last week before the survey increased from 35% in 1990 to 64% in 2003.
But the proportion drinking shandy dropped from 31% in 1990 to 21% in 2003.
Research also found that pupils who have ever played truant were considerably more likely to have taken drugs in the last month ? 38% compared to 7%.
They were also more likely to be a regular smoker ? 33% compared to 4% ? and to have drunk alcohol in the last week ? 52% compared to 19%.