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Study confirms teenagers are experimenting with cocaine

30 June 2009 Queen's University, Belfast

A study by Queen’s University Belfast has confirmed that some Northern Ireland teenagers are experimenting with cocaine.

Research conducted by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work has found that 7.5% of young people who took part in the Belfast Youth Development Survey had tried cocaine at least once by the age of 16.

The survey involves 4,000 teenagers in 43 schools in Northern Ireland, who have taken part in the study each year since entering post-primary education. Funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland, it is one of the largest schools-based surveys of its kind in the UK or Ireland.

Dr Patrick McCrystal, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute or Child Care Research, said: "A small number of those who took part in the survey told us they had tried cocaine at least once. Of those who had taken cocaine, only one in ten used it on a weekly basis. This indicates that while some teenagers have experimented with the drug, few continue to use it regularly.

“While cocaine has only recently emerged on to the Northern Ireland drug scene, this study suggests that it may be making its way into the adolescent drug scene quite quickly. It also indicates that the profile of cocaine users may be changing.

“In the 1990’s the typical cocaine user was single, in their twenties, well-educated, and in a well-paid professional job. In this study, however, more than half of those who had experimented with the drug were females, and one third had experienced social deprivation. They were more likely to live within a disrupted family with just one parent, have poor levels of communication with parents or guardians, and have low levels of motivation to do well at school. Most of those who had taken cocaine also regularly got drunk, smoked tobacco daily, and used cannabis on a weekly basis. Two thirds had also used inhalants.

“This study shows that young people are able to get hold of cocaine for their own personal use. Oder friends were the most popular source for obtaining the drug, followed by a dealer and friends of the same age. When we began this study, outside in the street or at a party were the most popular places for taking cocaine. By the end of the study period the most common place was at a friend’s house, where just under half of those who had taken cocaine reported doing so.

“These findings highlight the need to educate young people about the risks and health and social implications of cocaine use while they are still in compulsory education and under the age of 16. Children and young people must be empowered to refuse an offer of drugs. If and when the opportunity to experiment with cocaine presents itself, they must be well-equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions on drug use.

“The study also highlights the need for a well-planned strategy to monitor trends of illicit drug use among young people, to help inform policy to deal with its impact. If the age of first use of cocaine is becoming younger, or the levels of cocaine use are increasing, the number of users who are likely to develop problems and place demands on drug treatment centres will increase in the future. This is something that health, social care, and education policy makers should take note of."

Dr McCrystal’s research paper, A Profile of Adolescent Cocaine Use in Northern Ireland, has been published in The International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 20, Issue 4, July 2009) and can be found online at www.elsevier.com  

http://www.qub.ac.uk/

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