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Students dispense drug advice

Lunchtime drug advice is being dispensed by pupils at a Swindon secondary school in what is believed to be a unique scheme.

Eight specially-trained students have opened a drop-in advice centre running twice a week, providing information on any drug from tobacco and solvents to alcohol and heroin. Sessions are held in complete confidence.

Staff at Churchfields School say there is not a drugs problem among their 1,000 pupils, but heroin use in the town is believed to have risen by between 400 and 600 per cent during the past six years. Reports suggest that there may be up to 300 addicts, some as young as 13.

Alan Bolter, Churchfields' co-ordinator for personal and social education, said all responsible schools had to face up to the problem of drugs.

He said: "This is a fresh approach. The students are taking on the responsibility of passing on information as a point of contact for their peers, and pointing them in the right direction if they want more help.

"They are giving a lot of commitment, and the drop-in centre could well be a unique idea. I haven't heard of another school that has done this."

He added: "So many staff feel they haven't got their fingers on the pulse. When we were young, drugs were not so available from inner city to rural areas. It is something we did not have to face up to."

Gemma Turner, 14, one of the advisers whose ambition is to work in medicine, said: "We may be a shoulder to cry on. If you have got a problem, there are not many places to go to for advice."

Colleague Terry Rose, 15, added: "The other pupils think the drop-in centre is a good idea. It will give them somewhere to turn to if they want to talk about drugs. We are discreet."

The initiative took off after a visit by members of druglink, a Swindon drug advisory centre, and the local health promotion unit about the Government-backed Peer Educators' Project in schools.

After the students had attended their training course on drug issues at Wiltshire County Council's Braeside residential centre, they came up with the idea of the drop-in centre. They have drawn up their own rota, have given a series of talks in assembly and have also designed their own posters promoting the scheme.

Early indications are that the sessions in the school's interview room will prove popular: within moments of the opening a 13-year-old called in for some advice on the pitfalls of solvent abuse.

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