'Huge' drugs, alcohol abuse among kids

A LEADING care worker has said more needs to be done to tackle the “huge amount” of drug and alcohol abuse among Essex schoolchildren.

Elliot Furniss

A LEADING care worker has said more needs to be done to tackle the “huge amount” of drug and alcohol abuse among Essex schoolchildren.

Steve Woods is the centre manager at the Colchester branch of the Open Road drug and alcohol treatment service and said that although the centre works with those aged 18 and over, he frequently visits local schools and is always surprised by the number of young people who are so open about their behaviour.

Mr Woods said: “We do all the education for drug and alcohol in Tendring and Colchester for the secondary schools, so going around and just seeing a show of hands - there is a huge amount of youngsters who are all using drugs.

“It's incredible. I ask teachers to look away. There's a huge amount of cannabis use and a huge amount of alcohol use.”

He said as well as cannabis and alcohol, the abuse of cocaine and ecstasy was also increasingly prevalent.

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Mr Woods said: “Any combination of these then you're going to have someone, especially a youngster, who is very, very angry.

“Kids have got more money these days, but there's slightly less for them to do.

“Working with the kids, when you talk to them, they say 'I would like to put some ideas forward' but they don't have that many options.”

Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich, agreed that more work needed to be done to educate youngsters about drink and drugs but said there were structured activities out there for them to get involved in rather than spending time looking a “buzz”.

He said: “One of the things I really admire about Open Road is they bring an honesty about it all and are frank and open-minded.

“In the age of the internet, young people are going to be exposed to it (drink and drugs) a lot. The Government and councils should give them (Open Road) the money and let them get on with it - give them free reign.”

He said Open Road staff had more credibility with youngsters than teachers or officials as they were passionate about the issues.

He added: “I don't think there's a lack of things (for schoolchildren) to do. We have become too expectant to have instant gratification and constant entertainment and because of that, perhaps, there's a need for people to look for the buzz and entertainment and have a laugh.

“People need to be encouraged to recognise that there are a lot of things you can do that are structured and give you much more sense of identity and sense of worth.”

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex branch of the NUT, said he was unconvinced that the straw polls carried out in schools gave an accurate reflection of the extent of drink and drug use among children.

He said: “Some kids would like to give the bravado of experience, particularly among their peers. But I'm very clear that the instances of alcohol abuse are probably more significant than people want to admit to.

“Access to drugs is easier, as is access to alcohol, and there will be unavoidable dangerous experimentation.

“The immediate thing for schools is to have a clear drug and alcohol policy to communicate with young people in a manner which is relevant and sufficiently sophisticated to have the impact we all would want.”

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