DRUG-TAKING by pupils has peaked, says new research.
The finding comes from the Schools Health Education Unit, which last year quizzed more than than 40,000 nine to 15-year-olds about their drug habits.
The Exeter University unit claims the trend in illegal drug use, which had been rising steadily since 1987, shows signs of levelling off. Its survey is the latest in a series which has collected data on more than 300,000 youngsters since 1987.
Drug use peaked in 1996 at just over 30 per cent for 14 and 15-year-olds. The 1999 figure was 21 per cent.
John Balding, unit director, said: "In 1996 the trend was onwards and upwards but since then we have seen a decline.
"There seems to be a coincidence between these results and the very carefully designed and co-ordinated efforts of drug-
action teams, drug-prevention advisers and the Department for Education and Employment.
"There has been a genuine attempt to inform and less of the 'shock-horror' stuff.
"From our measurements the signals are good. Something is happening."
The 1999 results found that 16 per cent of 12 and13-year-olds and 44 per cent of 14 and 15-year-olds had been offered drugs. About a fifth of the younger group said they knew where to get drugs. For the older group th proportion rose to neary 40 per cent.
Fifty per cent of 12 and 13-year-olds and 35 per cent of 14 and 15-year-olds thought cannabis was always unsafe. They were even more wary about cocaine, ecstasy and solvents. About a fifth of 14 and 15-year-olds had mixed drugs and alcohol.
If cannabis were made legal, 12 per cent of 14 to 15-year-old boys and 7 per cent of girls who already use it said they would use it more often.
Of non-users, only 3 per cent said they would start using cannabis if it were legalised.
Nearly 60 per cent of 14- to 15-year-olds and about 20 per cent of younger children were fairly sure or certain that they knew a drug user.
The proportion of children who were worried about drugs has fallen. In 1995 and 1996 nearly a quarter of the 12 to 15-year-olds groups "worried a lot". But in 1999 the figures had dropped to less than 10 per cent.
The health education unit's survey also revealed that 60 per cent of primary children wanted their parents to talk to them about drugs.
The unit is commissioned by health and education authorities and others to research the health and social development of young people. It questions pupils at up to 300 schools each year.
The report is available from the Schools Health Education Unit, telephone 01392 667272. Price pound;8.50