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New tack on drugs and drink

A survey of drug and alcohol use in the Borders has confirmed the long-standing perception by pupils that existing educational approaches have largely been a waste of time.

The Scottish Office meanwhile has announced that 67,000 first-year secondary pupils are to be sent a special Young Scot information pack including facts about drugs.

The Borders research, conducted last year among 723 12 to 19-year-olds by a widely based drugs and alcohol action team, found that one in five had drunk over the recommended number of units for adults by the age of 15. More than a quarter had drunk no alcohol at all.

Around half of those over 15 said they had never tried illegal drugs. Of those who had, the majority confined their use to cannabis.

The researchers concluded that "those who do drink alcohol and try drugs do so with the express purpose of socialising and enjoying themselves. These young people appear to balance the perceived risks with the perceived pleasures, and their growing numbers suggest that prevention strategies have failed - if their aim is to encourage abstinence."

The report adds: "Most young people perceive alcohol as relatively harmless and a large proportion appear unconcerned about the significance of drinking more than the recommended safe limits.

"With regard to drugs, young people, regardless of their experiences, want more practical information. They want specific advice about specific drugs in specific situations. Many of them complain that current drugs education is too general and that it is being given in schools by people without adequate knowledge."

The research found that parents are seen as lacking both knowledge and objectivity. "This perceived lack of objectivity interferes with open and honest relations between young people and their parents," the report states. It calls for work with parents to allow them "to help their children more constructively" Young people also complained that adults failed to differentiate between different drugs. They were critical of heroin users but had more tolerant attitudes to cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy.

"It is possible that an educational approach which puts all such drugs together, without distinction, may fail to get across key messages," the researchers warn.

Drugs programmes in Borders schools will now be reviewed.

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