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Drug threat to children at schools

PUBLISHED: 15:00 20 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:41 03 March 2010

TO combat the insidious rise of drugs in our schools today the Star launches its Push Out the Playground Pushers campaign.

Our investigation lifts the lid on the growing drug menace encroaching on our children and asks what schools are doing to tackle it.

TO combat the insidious rise of drugs in our schools today the Star launches its Push Out the Playground Pushers campaign.

Our investigation lifts the lid on the growing drug menace encroaching on our children and asks what schools are doing to tackle it.

The deadly scourge of drugs has infiltrated Suffolk's schools with illegal and addictive substances being traded and taken by youngsters every day.

Where once the playground offered a haven from the ills of the street, more and more schoolyards now act as market places for the exchange and sale of potentially lethal drugs.

Cynical suppliers ensnare naïve youngsters in their deadly web. But for the vast majority their first experience of illicit substances is when they are offered them by their schoolfriends either in the playground or on their way home.

When you are young you feel immortal and oblivious to the consequences.

The hedonistic world of a quick high combined with a raging curiosity and peer pressure can lure even the most sensible child into a downward spiral of craving drugs just to feel alive.

What starts out being perceived as harmless fun can lead to a tormented existence which can finally destroy even the strongest willed individual.

Now more than ever our children are targets and the battle to save them is raging, often without those closest to them knowing until it is too late.

Patrick Palmer, therapy co-ordinator at the ICENI project in Woodbridge Road, Ipswich, believes the war on drugs is one that schools in particular have a duty to bring out in the open.

"More and more clients are coming to us in their late teens and early twenties," said Mr Palmer. "These are people who have reported that their drug use started at around the age of 13 in a school environment.

"One of the problems is that drugs has a stigma and schools try to sweep it under the carpet. This gets the problem nowhere.

"It is really worrying because these youngsters have established a pattern of behaviour at school. A lot will go through this stage of soft drugs but some will become stuck especially when drugs become a support system for them.

"I would encourage schools to acknowledge the problem and not to sweep it under the carpet. I have great admiration for schools that admit there is a problem."

"We have been running for two years and seen a tremendous increase in people seeking our service and a lot of these have been people who developed a problem with so called soft drugs in their younger years.

Mr Palmer, who deals with people's dependencies and addictions, believes that the way forward for schools should be to allow children to challenge the situation and what is going on around them.

"There needs to be a safe way youngsters can report their worries," he said.

To combat the spiralling use of drugs by children Mr Palmer said more needs to be done and that there needs to be a fear factor involved. Drug education often means fact but fact can be sanitised against the harsh reality of a tumbling descent in to drug addition.

"Schools are worried that if they say there is a problem they will look like a bad school and the school itself will be blamed.

"It is no good if schools are on the defensive, agencies that can help need to be allowed to be more active in schools. Peer pressure needs to be understood, it is a powerful tool and one that is hard to combat.

"There needs to be a fear factor, all too often drug education relies simply on information. My work shows me a very negative journey and the children need to see this," he added.

"There does not seem to be any consistency when it comes to school policies on drugs. Some hit the issue hard but others skirt around it. There needs to be a proven strategy.

"Exclusion is not the way forward, it may be seen as the only way but it can set people up for failure later. I am worried about the number of exclusions that are drug related. People are excluded then what happens to them?"

"If you exclude you are just distancing yourself from the problem. We have to work with the problem and not just push it away."

This year experts called for a complete overhaul in the drugs education programme after another survey found that more than one in a hundred boys aged 12 said they had tried heroin.

"The results were very striking," said Jeremy Gluck, of Adolescent Assessment Services, who carried out the survey on behalf of local education authorities.

"Drug use is much more extensive than we thought. Some numbers were so high we genuinely did not want to believe them," he said.

East Bergholt High School is an example of one of our schools which has had to confront a drugs problem in the past two weeks.

It is not alone and while a well-respected school of East Bergholt's reputation has been put under the spotlight others around the county are being forced to fight this growing nightmare.

Like many schools Steve Wooldridge, deputy head at Chantry High, said he has seen the prevalence of drugs increase.

"Any school who says there is not some type of drug problem is not telling the truth. We have been very lucky over the last few years because we had a lot of publicity saying we are a drug free zone and this has helped keep us ahead of the problem.

"We try to teach the children to be able to say no. Most schools find it hard to keep what happens on the outside at bay but most of the children are confident enough to come forward and let us know if there is anything going on.

"When it comes to actual drug education teaching them the strength to say no is very important.

"Sadly drug taking is on the increase, they are more accessible and this exacerbates their acceptability.

"The problem needs to be dealt with outside schools as well. Parents must take some responsibility."

A survey commissioned by the National Union of Teachers has found that one in seven schools were plagued by drug dealing inside its premises. The same survey discovered one in five schools in England and Wales has to deal with cases of illegal drug abuse among its pupils each year.

Many schools in Suffolk are aware of the need for decisive action.

Neil Watts, headteacher at Northgate High, said: "We have a very strong drugs policy which focuses on education but with a strong line taken in terms of advice. The policy is always kept under review."

Graham Smith, is deputy head at Farlingaye High School, in Woodbridge.

"Our policy has not dramatically changed over recent years. We have drug and alcohol education built in to our PSE lessons. Every issue is dealt with individually and we always make sure everyone is fully informed of the situation.

"There is no policy of automatic exclusion we would do a lot of investigation before any decision was made."

Suffolk Police today urged people to report drugs use to them. A spokesman stressed that it was important people come forward no matter which the premises the abusers used to take their drugs.

A spokesman said: "If anyone has any information they must let us know immediately. If there is evidence of laws being broken then we need to know."

Suffolk County Council's spokeswoman Moira Jackson explained that each school devises its own drug education programme.

"All schools are responsible for drawing up and enforcing their own policies. Schools are supported by their LEAs. If drug related issues arise they are dealt with through the curriculum and with parents."

Just what has caused this increase in drug use, is it more acceptable, more accessible, or simply the norm?

N If you or your family have had first hand experience of the teenage drug problem in our schools telephone The Evening Star Newsdesk on 01473 282257

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