Denis Campbell and Anushka Asthana
Sunday April 15, 2007
Government attempts to persuade thousands of young people to stay away from drugs have failed and done nothing to curb the soaring popularity of illegal substances, a devastating report will warn this week.
The number of young people using cocaine and cannabis has increased rapidly over the past 20 years despite high-profile campaigns, such as the £9m 'Frank' initiative aimed at 11 to 15-year-olds, according to an in-depth examination of official efforts to tackle Britain's chronic drug problem. It is also expected to claim that Britain's 'unusually severe drug problem compared with that of our European neighbours' is linked to social and economic deprivation, that punitive laws have had little effect and that police efforts to disrupt the drugs trade have also failed.
The study, 'An Analysis of UK Drugs Policy', has been written by two internationally respected experts, Professor Peter Reuter of Maryland University in the US and Alex Stevens, senior researcher at the European Institute of Social Services at Kent University.
Their findings are a scathing indictment of decades of education, prevention and awareness-raising campaigns intended to warn youngsters about the perils of narcotics. The three main strategies into which successive governments have ploughed tens of millions of pounds - mass media campaigns such as 'heroin screws you up' in the 1980s, initiatives in schools aimed at pupils as young as seven and targeting of vulnerable groups - have made little or no difference, it says.
'Prevention is cited as the main policy area aiming to reduce drug initiation and continued use. The policy is predicated on the assumption that prevention efforts reduce drug use, but there is as yet no clear evidence showing that prevention has had this effect in the UK,' the authors conclude.