Pubdate: Sun, 05 Feb 2006
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2006
Author: Nina Goswami and Gemma Brosnan
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Up to 35,000 children under 16 are using heroin, according to official

The alarming scale of heroin abuse by children is revealed just a week
after an 11-year-old girl collapsed at her primary school desk in
Glasgow after smoking the drug.

Until now, figures on heroin addiction among children were based on
research collated from just two cities, Glasgow and Newcastle upon
Tyne, where 90 heroin addicts under 13 were discovered.

But new Government figures, based on a nationwide survey, show that
the problem is much more widespread than originally thought. One
leading academic on child drug abuse said last night that the number
of schoolchildren using heroin could be as high as 60,000.

Doctors said the figure showed that heroin was a ticking "health time
bomb" and parents called for urgent action by the Government.

Gaille McCann, a spokesman for Mothers Against Drugs, said last night:
"The Government's own figures prove that the 11-year-old girl wasn't
an isolated case.

"They keep trying to reassure us that there isn't a crisis but they
need to stop pretending and act quickly before the situation gets out
of control."

Dr Paul Skett, an addiction expert from Glasgow University, gave
warning that heroin abuse could cause serious long-term damage to
children's health. "Heroin affects the brain, hormonal and sexual
development which means children won't develop properly and girls
might not be able to have children when they are older," he said.

The Government findings, from the study Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use
Among Young People in England in 2004, states that in each year since
2000 one per cent of all schoolchildren used heroin at least once.

More than 9,700 children aged 11 to 15 were interviewed. A similar
survey was conducted in Scotland, where the same percentage of heroin
users was found among 7,000 schoolchildren.

Elizabeth Fuller, the lead statistician on the Government survey, said
that the figure was rounded up from 0.7 per cent but margins of error
meant that the figure could be 0.5 per cent or 0.9 per cent - putting
the nationwide number of children taking heroin at between 19,500 and

Prof Neil McKeganey, a narcotics expert from Glasgow University, said
the figure could be much higher than 35,000 and would continue to rise.

"Growing numbers of children are being exposed to heroin from
infancy," he said. "Around 300,000 children growing up in the UK have
one or both parents addicted to heroin. These children assume heroin
use is quite normal."

Sarah Compton, 29, who became hooked on heroin after suffering sexual
abuse as a child and is currently in rehabilitation with the charity
Phoenix House, said: "I went to a Catholic school where they didn't
warn us about the dangers of drink and drugs until we were 13 and 14,
and by then it was too late. It's not unusual to be doing A-class
drugs at 12."

Kelly Anderson, 27, from Newcastle, whose spiral towards heroin
addiction began at 14, said: "I'm not surprised that there are
11-year-olds on heroin. I've seen it before. It's definitely usual for
kids around 14."

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary said: "We need effective
measures to create awareness in young people of the risks."

The Department of Health said: "We have made sure that all schools
receive guidance on solvents, drugs and alcohol." 
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