Drug use by school pupils on the rise

More 11 to 15-year-olds have taken drugs than have smoked a cigarette, new figures suggest.
More 11 to 15-year-olds have taken drugs than have smoked a cigarette, new figures suggest.
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More 11 to 15-year-olds in England have taken drugs than have smoked a cigarette, new figures suggest.

Almost a quarter of surveyed pupils said they had used drugs at least once, while around one in five had smoked tobacco, according to a report by NHS Digital covering 2016.

In Yorkshire 23 per cent said they had taken drugs, while 19 per cent had smoked.

The number of pupils reporting drug-taking rose from 15 per cent in 2014 to 24 per cent in 2016, which NHS Digital said may partly be fuelled by the addition of new questions about nitrous oxide and new psychoactive substances, formerly known as legal highs.

However, more data is needed to understand if this apparent rise is a genuine trend, the body added.

Rick Bradley, a specialist on young people and mental health for the charity Addaction, called for more investment in drug education and treatment for young people

He said: “Nitrous oxide use amongst young people has increased and this may be one reason for the higher rates of drug use.

“Whilst not without its risks, most nitrous oxide use will be experimental or recreational and does not present the same risks as misuse of some other substances, including alcohol.

“That said, these figures should be seen as a wake up call to government.

“We have to teach young people about the risks before they start thinking about using substances or alcohol.

“What works is providing supportive and evidence-based education at schools, so young people can make informed choices as they grow up.”

The findings further showed three per cent of pupils were regular smokers, while 10 per cent had drunk alcohol in the last week and 10 per cent had used drugs in the past month.

Almost half - 44 per cent - said they had drunk alcohol at least once. In Yorkshire this figure is even higher at 49 per cent.

Girls were more likely than boys to have been drunk in the past four weeks, and were marginally more likely to have smoked a cigarette, the report added.

The total number of pupils who said they had smoked tobacco appears to have declined steadily over the past 20 years, falling from 49 per cent in 1996 to 19 per cent in 2016.

Meanwhile, a quarter said they had inhaled an e-cigarette - up from 22 per cent in 2014 - but just two per cent of pupils use one regularly. A total of 12,051 pupils from 177 schools across England were asked about their lifestyles and substance use by Ipsos Mori for the report.