Pubdate: Wed, 30 May 2007
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: John Hooper, in Rome, The Guardian
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


The paramilitary Carabinieri, a tough force which until recently was
stationed in Iraq, could be sent into schools to search for drugs. The
proposal follows widespread alarm in Italy at what is seen as rapidly
growing drug use among the young.

Livia Turco, the health minister in Romano Prodi's centre-left
government, said the consumption and trafficking of drugs by students
had reached the point at which it was time to begin checks throughout
Italy. Ms Turco, who has control of a Carabinieri detachment, said her
initiative reflected "a sense of responsibility towards parents".

Parental concern has spiralled in recent months, largely because of
photos and videos posted on the web that give an impression of
widespread anarchy in the country's classrooms. Earlier this month, a
video was posted on the internet, apparently showing a teacher rolling
a marijuana "spliff" in front of his pupils. It was later shown on

Last month also saw the death of a 15-year-old pupil at a school near
Milan. It was found that just prior to his death he had been smoking
cannabis; and at the postmortem, traces of cocaine were also found.

Whether these high-profile incidents reflect a growing phenomenon is
unclear. But official statistics indicate that drug use has become
extremely common among urban youths.

A recent survey by the health authorities in Milan found that almost
70% of 15- to 24-year-olds had used cannabis. That compares with a
nationwide average of 25% and a Europe-wide average of 17% in a survey
for Drug Watch International in the 1990s.

In theory, the Italian authorities are enforcing a policy of zero
tolerance. The previous, conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi
introduced legislation that abolished the distinction between soft and
hard drugs and made it illegal to be found in possession of even small
quantities of narcotics.

Ms Turco's proposal yesterday won overwhelming backing in a straw poll
carried out by women's magazine Donna Moderna. Of some 200 readers
consulted, 92% said they were in favour of deploying the

The drastic initiative has divided the centre-left, exposing a rift
between those, such as Ms Turco, who support a Blairite "tough on
crime" approach and those who take a more traditionally liberal line.
Paolo Cento, a junior minister and member of the Green party, said:
"The schools system must not be transformed into a kind of police state."

Earlier this month Ms Turco embraced another highly controversial project,
instigated by right-wingers in Milan: to supply parents with kits with which
to test their children for drug use. Last week, a pilot scheme was launched
in an area on the southern outskirts of the city. Some 4,000 families were
offered vouchers entitling them to a kit free of charge.

But so far the project appears to have been a failure. According to
the Milan-based daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, only 50 parents
had taken up the offer by last weekend. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake