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Generation cocaine: One in ten teenagers has tried hard drugs as use by under-17s hits a peak

Generation cocaine: One in ten teenagers has tried hard drugs as use by under-17s hits a peak… and boys are more likely to experiment, new figures show

  • One in ten young people has tried hard drugs by the age of 17, research finds 
  • The study by UCL found youngsters using more cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine
  • In 2019 700 people died from cocaine poisoning, double the level four years ago

One in ten young people has tried hard drugs by the time they are 17, researchers said yesterday.

While a third of teenagers have tried cannabis before they reach adulthood, record numbers appear to have moved on to cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine. The large-scale study comes amid deepening concern about the spread of cocaine.

According to official estimates, its use by young people has trebled in ten years and the drug, which first became popular among well-off young professionals, is now believed to generate illicit sales worth £1billion a year in London alone.

There are also growing worries about the effects of cocaine on those who deal it and use it. 

According to official estimates, cocaine use by young people has trebled in ten years

Levels of violence among young people involved in drugs gangs has surged, and there were more than 700 cocaine poisoning deaths in 2019, a level which had doubled in four years. 

Middle-class teens more likely to booze and shoplift

Children from middle-class backgrounds are more likely to binge drink and shoplift, a new study has found.

University College London analysed data from 19,000 17-year-olds.

Seven percent of those in the study admitted to stealing from a shop in the last year.

This rose to 9 per cent for those whose parents attended university, whereas only 5 per cent of those whose parents were less educated said that they had shoplifted. 

Fifty-nine per cent of teens with degree-holding parents admitted to binge drinking, compared to 50 per cent of those from less educated backgrounds.

In contrast, those from lower socioeconomic households were more likely to smoke cigarettes.

Aase Villadsen of the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies said the drinking was down to teenagers copying the behaviours of their middle-class parents.

But she said that the shoplifting data was ‘puzzling.’

The latest study by researchers at University College London was based on the evidence of 19,500 youngsters aged 17 and 18 questioned for the Millennium Cohort Survey in 2018 and 2019.

Thirty-one per cent had tried cannabis and 10 per cent had tried harder drugs by the age of 17, the study found.

It said drug use was similar among teenagers from both well-educated and low-qualified families.

Boys were more likely to have used the harder drugs than girls – 12 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls said they had tried cocaine, ecstasy or ketamine.

Boys were also more likely than girls to have tried cannabis – 34 per cent against 28 per cent.

White teenagers were twice as likely to have tried hard drugs as ethnic minority teenagers – 11 per cent against 5 per cent.

The study found that class and wealth divisions were more apparent in other forms of risky or anti-social behaviour including binge drinking, which it classified as drinking five or more drinks at a time. ‘Young people whose parents were highly educated – holding at least a degree – were more likely to report having tried alcohol than those whose parents had lower level qualifications, 89 per cent against 82 per cent,’ it said.

‘They were also more likely to have engaged in binge drinking, 59 per cent against 50 per cent. Rates of drug use remained similar among young people, regardless of parents’ educational qualifications.’

The researchers found that stealing was twice as common among teenagers from well-educated families as among those from low-qualified homes.

Nearly one in ten teenagers whose parents were educated to degree level had engaged in shoplifting, but only one in 20 of those with less well-educated families. The finding suggests teenagers may be stealing for reasons other than poverty. 

While a third of teenagers have tried cannabis before they reach adulthood, record numbers appear to have moved on to cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine

While a third of teenagers have tried cannabis before they reach adulthood, record numbers appear to have moved on to cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine

The study’s co-author, Professor Emla Fitzsimons, of the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, said: ‘To some extent, experimental and risk-taking behaviours are an expected part of growing up and, for many, will subside in early adulthood.

‘Nevertheless, behaviours in adolescence can be a cause for concern as they can have adverse long-term consequences for individuals’ health and wellbeing, and their social and economic outcomes.’

She added: ‘It remains to be seen how the pandemic has affected engagement in these behaviours.’

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