MORE THAN 100,000 Scottish secondary pupils - one in three - may be taking illegal drugs, according to Calton Athletic, the Glasgow-based drugs prevention charity. The danger year continues to be when pupils transfer into secondary.
The survey will heighten pressure on schools to join the war against drugs, at a time when young people are subject to ever more confusing messages. This week the head of the Episcopal Church in Scotland found himself embroiled in a furious debate after he advocated the use of cannabis (see below).
Calton Athletic, which started life in 1985 as a football team for addicts wanting to kick the habit, has built up a national database with facts on specific age-groups and different parts of the country.
The group operates a controversial policy of using a drug awareness team of recovering addicts to visit primary and secondary schools warning pupils and "telling it like it is". It holds workshops for pupils and talks to parents and community groups. Last session it gave an estimated 233 presentations at 189 schools.
The first full analysis of the surveys it has carried out for four years shows that 9 per cent of 5,537 primary 6 and primary 7 pupils in 120 schools said they had been offered drugs. Nearly 3per cent said they had taken drugs, mostly cannabis.
The figure for those being offered drugs leaps to 20 per cent of pupils in the first year of secondary and 12 per cent say they have experimented. "That is when children really come under pressure to take drugs," Calton Athletic states.
The incidence of drug-taking continues to rise sharply among teenagers - 73 per cent of 16-year-olds claimed they had been offered drugs with 52 per cent saying they had taken them.
The secondary survey involved 7,700 pupils from S1 to S6 in 34 schools. Overall 35 per cent said they had used illegal drugs, the same level as last year. If that reflects the Scottish secondary population of around 315,000, it means some 110,000 pupils will have sampled drugs.
Calton Athletic warns, however, that alcohol is "the real gateway drug". It found 67 per cent of primary 6 and primary 7 pupils had taken alcohol, rising to 83 per cent of 12-year-olds and 97 per cent of 15-year-olds. The proportion who drink at least twice a week increases from 9 per cent of 12-year-olds to 50 per cent of 16-year-olds.
The group is particularly anxious to demonstrate the effectiveness of its approach, which has come under fire. Some 46 per cent of pupils in its survey who are already using drugs said they would not have started if they had heard the Calton presentation first; 58 per cent said they intended to stop taking drugs having heard the talks.
But a leading critic, Alistair Ramsay, now executive director of Scotland Against Drugs and formerly health education adviser in Glasgow, pointed out in The TES Scotland last year that the use of recovering addicts and alcoholics is banned in US schools.
Mr Ramsay added: "If we had no other resources, I could understand schools going to outside agencies but the use of ex-addicts has not been proved to be educationally sound."
Elspeth Hirst, co-ordinator of the Calton drug awareness team and a former teacher, says that since it began visiting schools in 1993-94 the vast majority have asked for a return visit.
After a two-hour workshop with primary 7 pupils at Longstone primary in Edinburgh last year, John Pattie, the class teacher, said it fitted perfectly with the school's handling of drug awareness.
The Calton survey reports that 88 per cent of secondary pupils, given a range of possible sources of information, believe recovering addicts are the best people to educate them on drugs. Three-quarters of all pupils from P6 to S6 suggest that P6 is the best stage to start the awareness programme.
A Greenock teacher said of this year's round of talks that it "really brings home the effects on others as well as the addict".
A 13-year-old Crieff pupil endorsed the point saying: "I've found out that your family suffer as much as you."