Drug dealers are targeting schools and a "worrying number" of youngsters are trying cocaine, an expert warned yesterday. As a result, the country is heading for a health care disaster, Prof John Henry, the UK's leading expert on illicit drug use, told The Daily Telegraph. He predicted a dramatic rise in heart attacks, strokes and neurological problems among young people. He spoke as a new report said that almost one in five secondary school pupils in England, some as young as 11, took illegal drugs last year.
The number of children aged 11-15 dabbling in drugs was contributing to an increase in the number of adults addicted to Class A drugs such as cocaine, with massive knock-on costs for the NHS. Hospital admissions linked to illegal drugs have tripled in five years.
The report was published by The Information Centre for Health and Social Care, a Government-funded body. The number of pupils who told researchers that they had used drugs in the previous month had fallen slightly over a five-year period. But the report said that the numbers who took cocaine or ecstasy in the past year have not dropped and represent four per cent -- or around 140,000 children.
Around 17 per cent of pupils took some kind of illegal drug, rising to 29 per cent among 15-year-olds. Nearly one in five at secondary school were offered Class A drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine, crack, magic mushrooms, and amphetamines.
The report, which also looked at adult drug-taking in England and Wales, found that the number of cannabis users was down, from 10 per cent to eight per cent, but cocaine was the second most common drug.
Those taking Class A drugs rose in the past eight years from 2.7 per cent to 3.4 per cent, about 1.4 million adults, mainly due to an increase in cocaine use. Prof Susan Paterson, a toxicologist at Imperial College, London, who works with coroners on heroin deaths in the capital, said: "Ten years ago we hardly saw cocaine. Now it is commonplace."
Prof Henry said: "If dealers can find a new audience they will go for it. It is very brutal, very aggressive. "If you have a large number of people trying cocaine, you will have more people addicted." Cocaine usage had peaked in the US but was still on the rise here "which means the worst is yet to come, we're going to see more severe addiction, more strokes and heart attacks in young people, and more of the other complications linked to its usage".
There were 171 deaths from cocaine in 2005, up from 19 in 1996, but the professor said the figure was a gross underestimate because many cocaine users died of heart attacks and strokes. Prof Henry said: "We did research into people with chest pain and we found that about 30 per cent of people coming into hospital under 40 had taken cocaine." Cocaine use has been boosted because it has become more socially acceptable and the supply is more plentiful. A gram wrap costs as little as £45 and experts fear its use will soar until it reaches a peak, as it did in the 1990s in the US, where there are now 25 million users and two million addicts. According to the report, three per cent of pupils who said they had taken drugs in the past month were just 11 or 12 years old.
In 2006, 17 per cent of boys had taken drugs in the past year and 10 per cent in the past month. The figures for girls were 16 per cent and eight per cent respectively. Meanwhile, the numbers of adults in hospital where drug use is a factor has risen nearly threefold in 10 years to 38,364, while drug treatment centres are overwhelmed, with 181,390 drug users visiting them last year - up 13 per cent in 12 months. Some 8,200 pupils in 290 schools completed questionnaires last autumn for the survey.
Source: Daily Telegraph April 2007