Professor Neil McKeganey, who advises the Government on drug prevention, says that sensitive information about family members known to be users should be used to identify children in danger of taking up illegal drugs.
Professor McKeganey, a member of the prevention working group of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, says that setting up a register, similar to the one which already exists for children at risk from abuse, would enable teachers to work much more effectively with potential young users. "Illegal drug use at this young age is no less pernicious nor the potential consequences any less tragic," he says.
The call comes after the largest-survey in the UK of illegal pre-teen drug use, which suggests that as many as one in ten 11 and 12- year olds is already a user.
The research, by the Centre for Drug Misuse at Glasgow University under the direction of Professor McKeganey, found 11-year-olds on hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines.
Most cases involved cannabis use, but a quarter of those children who admitted they had taken illegal drugs said they had consumed magic mushrooms, 8 per cent cocaine and 6 per cent heroin. Over half claimed to have sampled more than one illegal drug.
The findings follow studies among older children which suggest that by the age of 15 more than half have been offered drugs.
The survey of 930 children, aged 11 and 12, was carried out last year across 22 Scottish schools.
A key finding is that those pupils who had started taking drugs were far more likely than other children to have a user in their family - 60 per cent compared to only 12 per cent. In most cases this was an older sibling, but in some cases it was one or both parents.
The findings have important implications for school drug education. In today's TES, Professor McKeganey warns that existing programmes are failing the most vulnerable children by failing to identify them early. "By targeting attention on high-risk pupils, one stands a better chance of reducing the development of patterns of drug misuse in later life," he says.
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