The answer lay in peer education, as long as the messages that were delivered were accurate. "The young people need to feel that they are in charge of their own lives," Mr Cadger said.
The forum, organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform, also heard of a small but growing number of young teenagers being treated for serious drug addiction who are slipping through the educational net.
Malcolm Bruce, a consultant psychiatrist, said Lothian Health's community drugs problem service was treating five addicts under the age of 16. This compares with three last year, and never more than one or two in previous years. It was unusual for such children to have regular formal education, Dr Bruce stated. Only one was currently able to attend school.
"They stay at home, often refuse to go to school, and are getting involved in crimes," Dr Bruce said. "We work at getting these young addicts to change their peer group, but they also need more support over schooling and more support in the home."
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh's education department said neither education nor social work services had any knowledge of these young people. "There is no one specific project for school-aged drug addicts, but it may be that they would be referred to the outreach teaching services."
Dr Bruce later told The TES Scotland that the young addicts are registered with the Scottish Executive's drugs misuse database, which is easily accessible to local authority services. "Treating the drug problem is only part of the solution. It is certainly not the answer. I get very frustrated when I am expected just to treat the drug problem."
A Scotland-wide study by the Centre of Drugs Misuse at Glasgow University last year warned that one in 10 12-year-olds had used illegal drugs, and of these
6 per cent had taken heroin.
Alistair Ramsay, executive director of the education agency Scotland Against Drugs, said: "There is a small percentage of young people who are seriously compromised with their health, school work and family because of their drug habit. And none will be getting regular schooling. It is the responsibility of the education service to ensure they are involved."