Pre-teen drug abuse shocks researchers

John Carvel, social affairs editor
Wednesday September 3, 2003
The Guardian

Researchers investigating drug misuse among pre-teens in Glasgow said yesterday they had found an 11-year-old girl who regularly uses cannabis, amphetamines, LSD and ecstasy.

Neil McKeganey of Glasgow University's centre for drug misuse research said he was shocked to find that just under a third of children under 13 in Glasgow and Newcastle had been exposed to illegal drugs and 3.9% had tried them, 1.5% in the previous month.

After interviewing 2,318 children aged 10-12 in the two cities, he estimated there were 60 pre-teen heroin users in Glasgow and 34 in Newcastle.

The 11-year-old said she supplemented her consumption of illegal drugs by drinking alcohol at weekends.

Prof McKeganey said: "When one looks at the age of the children we are talking about, it is shocking. With children, there is no such thing as recreational drug use.

"It is a worrying scenario as there are very high risks that many of these children will go on to develop multiple problems. They will go on to become the addicts of tomorrow."

The government-funded study found 30.7% of the children had been exposed to illegal drugs and 9.2% had been offered them.

Cannabis was the most commonly used drug and Prof McKeganey said it was a "cause for concern" that some children thought it was legal and not harmful.

The report said drug misuse was more prevalent in Glasgow than Newcastle, where underage drinking was a bigger problem.

Drug misuse and exposure to drugs were more common among boys than girls, and among 12-year-olds than 10-year-olds.

The research was commissioned following the death of Alan Harper, 13, from a heroin overdose in Glasgow in 1998.

Prof McKeganey said: "Children need to be assisted with how to decline drug offers when they come and in particular from people close to them."

He said that the children interviewed said they wanted to hear real-life accounts by people who have experience of drug problems.

Hugh Henry, Scotland's deputy justice minister, said: "This research work does not mean that our strategy is failing, nor that we should look for some alternative magic solution elsewhere. It shows that there is a lot of hard work ahead of us all."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The number of pre-teens using illegal drugs is small but nevertheless worrying.",00.html