Teens 'pragmatic' about drugs

November 14, 1997

MANY teenage drug users prefer to get information about drugs from their suppliers rather than their schools, a study has found.

Nearly one-third of 12 to 19-year-olds in Glasgow interviewed by researchers had experimented with illicit drugs, often taking a "practical and pragmatic view" of their drug-taking.

A report on the findings says many of the teenagers had little time for the sort of drug education provided in schools, preferring to rely on others for information - including the people supplying them with drugs.

The six-month study of substance abuse in the Greater Easterhouse area of Glasgow found that 28 per cent of children in their early teens and 29 per cent of all 12 to 19-year-olds interviewed had taken illicit drugs.

David Best, of the National Addiction Centre at Maudsley Hospital in London, and Alison Barrie, of the East End Drugs Initiative in Glasgow, conducted 147 interviews with young people as well as distributing 200 questionnaires through youth clubs and schools to gather their data. They also employed two young researchers able to identify with the young people interviewed.

The study found that 29 per cent of the 12 to 19-year-olds had experimented with two or three substances and 20 per cent had experimented with four or five substances. The drugs ranged from alcohol and inhalants to speed, heroin and cocaine.

The researchers concluded: "Although a wide range of illicit drugs are accessible and available, much of the use would appear to be experimental, with only 23 of the 200 respondents reporting that they use more than three substances."

Drug use did not increase significantly with age. "The issue of age is a particularly contentious one as far as drug policy is concerned, but in the current investigation there does not appear to be any evidence of 'gateway' arguments where certain substance activities are associated with particular age patterns."

What did increase with age was scepticism about drug education. The study found that many of the older interviewees had a "practical and pragmatic view of drugs", which contrasted with the sensational stories that are reported in the media and used in drug prevention campaigns.

These teenagers contrasted people who took "happy drugs" such as ecstasy, cannabis, LSD and amphetamines, with those who injected heroin.

"They do not perceive their own patterns of substance activity as dangerous, nor do they perceive it as related to the activities of intravenous drug users, who they characterise as social outcasts and failures," the researchers said.

The study concluded: "It is too simplistic and convenient to isolate illicit substance use as a social evil and a social blight."

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