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Cash boost for drugs war

Schools gain an extra pound;10m to fight teenage substance abuse. Martin Edwards reports

AN extra pound;10 million will be invested in drugs education for young people over the next three years.

Government spending will rise from pound;7.5m this year to pound;17.5m in 2003-4.

The announcement came this week as the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator Keith Hellawell, Education Secretary David Blunkett, and Cabinet Office minister Mo Mowlam, met pupils during a drugs education class at Holland Park school in west London.

During his visit, Mr Hellawell, the so-called "drugs tsar", warned pupils that regular use of cannabis increased their chances of experimenting with hard drugs.

"There are a large number of young people who experiment with cannabis on and off and clearly it doesn't lead to them taking hard drugs," said Mr Hellawell.

"But research shows that regular smoking of cannabis leads to a much higher likelihood of involvement in harder drugs. Cannabis is a gateway drug and pro-legalisers will have to look at the evidence."

The sentiment struck a chord with some pupils who agreed that experimentation with soft drugs increased chances of addiction to class A substances.

"I think there's some truth in that," said Scarlett Rovenscraft, 14. "They are all damaging and they are all addictive."

However, some of her classmates were more critical of government policy and questioned why some drugs were legal and others not.

"There's a lotof debate on illegal drugs," said Matthew Critchley, 15. "But what about things like alcohol and tobacco which are really damaging? This seems a contradiction."

Mo Mowlam, who has admitted trying cannabis, said on Sunday that there is no evidence that smoking pot automatically leads to taking hard drugs. Speaking on BBC1's On the Record she said long-term alcohol abuse can have far worse consequences. (On the same day The Sunday Times claimed to have found cocaine in Parliament. Samples taken from toilets adjoining bars - including the Press Gallery Bar - had tested positive.

The catchment area for Holland Park school, a mixed comprehensive with 1,600 pupils includes Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove and acting headteacher Gale Kellar said: "The misuse of soft drugs among pupils is widespread."

But he added: "There's not a school in the country that doesn't have a problem with this.

"By the time they get to school most young people are aware of the different drugs. They know all the slang names for them. That's the reality and it's up to us to help educate them."

Year 1 pupils are told how the different drugs affect the mind and body.

In later years, pupils are encouraged to participate in a more critical debate on drugs through talks from outside agencies such as the police and social services.

Government ministers want 80 per cent of secondary and primary schools to have anti-drugs policies in place by 2003.

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