Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Contact:  Tue, 2 Feb 1999
Author: Linda Doherty and agencies


Children as young as 12 have tried heroin, cocaine, marijuana and
amphetamines, according to a schools drug survey released by the Government

At the same time the Government announced a review of the free supply of
injecting needles to teenagers to avoid the spread of disease.

One in 20 male high school students in the State has used heroin and
cocaine, slightly above the national average of 4 per cent, the survey
reported. But 3 per cent of 12-year-old boys had tried heroin, cocaine and
amphetamines at least once.

One drug expert said the figures were skewed by "unbelievably high" rates
of heroin use among teenagers in hotspots such as Cabramatta, and similar
high levels of cocaine use by students on Sydney's North Shore.

The schools survey did not detail usage by region.

The highest use of any illicit drug was marijuana, with the 1996 survey
showing that even in the first year of high school, 15 per cent of
12-year-old boys and 8 per cent of girls had dabbled with the drug.

By the age of 17, nearly two-thirds of males (61 per cent) and 51 per cent
of females had used marijuana. The 39 per cent overall male usage rate was
the highest recorded in any previous surveys. For girls, the overall rate
was 31 per cent.

There have been calls for the release of the NSW section of the 1996
Australian School Students Alcohol and Drug Survey since last August, when
the Minister for Health, Dr Refshauge, released a summary of the findings.

Yesterday, after political uproar over a newspaper photograph of a
16-year-old boy injecting heroin in Caroline Lane, Redfern, Dr Refshauge
released the full NSW report, which had been held up by "printing

The Redfern mobile needle exchange was removed last weekend after Dr
Refshauge viewed photographs published in The Sun-Herald. Another 27 mobile
exchanges and 320 permanent needle exchanges in NSW, which distribute 5.9
million clean needles a year to injecting drug users, are not affected.

Yesterday the boy's mother complained she was powerless to get him into
rehabilitation and claimed heroin was "such an easy drug to get". "They
just seem to be able to get on it so easy," she told Channel 9. "I'm
worried about he's going to kill himself. He's overdosed once."

Police said they would not press charges, but would counsel the boy.

Dr Refshauge said the internal Health Department review would look at the
complex issues of how to deal with children addicted to heroin, because
concerns about children's access to department-supplied syringes "has been
an issue".

The Opposition spokesman on health, Mrs Jillian Skinner, said the Coalition
would maintain a needle exchange program but children under 18 who sought
needles would be diverted to treatment services.

The co-ordinator of the NSW Users and Aids Association, Ms Annie Madden,
said removing access to clean needles was "bad health policy" that could
lead to the massive increase in HIV rates experienced among injecting drug
users in Vancouver, Canada, which rose from less than 5 per cent to 25 per
cent in an 18-month period after the removal of needle exchanges.

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MAP posted-by: Joel W. Johnson