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What paediatricians should know about young people and drugs in the UK
  1. Rosemary Jones1,
  2. Hilary Marcer1,
  3. Stephen Haig2
  1. 1Department of Child Health, Bath and North East Somerset Primary Care Trust, Bath, UK
  2. 2Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, UK
  1. For correspondence:
    Dr Rosemary Jones
    Child Health Department, Bath NHS House, Newbridge Hill, Bath, BA1 3QE, UK; rosemary.jones{at}

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Experimental drug use is extremely common in young people. Paediatricians will see children in the community or acute setting who have taken illegal drugs. This article summarises what is known about the commonly used street drugs and how children and young people may present to health professionals.


There are huge challenges in terms of accurate mapping of drugs usage; given that the activity is illegal, adolescents may be reluctant to talk to researchers about their own drug use, unless they are reassured about confidentiality. On the other hand, the topic is fascinating and there is much discussion about drugs within peer group settings. Unfortunately, methodologies used in mapping drugs usage vary widely, as well as definitions of terms such as “ever used”, “currently using”, or “problematic drugs use”. Various age categories are used, with some surveys relating to all teenagers (usually ages 11–19 years), some to younger teenagers (11–15 years), and others to “young people”—generally, but not always, 16–24 years. Household surveys are useful as they include large countrywide samples, and they can indicate regional variations. New technology, such as allowing respondents to enter data in response to questionnaires presented on laptop computers, has probably improved the accuracy of reporting.

The Department of Health1 collects data (using school-based questionnaires) about secondary school age children (aged 11–16 years) in relation to their levels of smoking, drinking alcohol and taking illegal drugs.2–7 Since 1998 each survey has asked questions about awareness of individual drugs, whether a drug has ever been tried and, if so, when it was last tried. Levels of smoking and drinking alcohol were the focus of data collection in 2000, 2002, and 2004, while in 2001 and 2003, the main focus was on drug taking. Data are published by the National Centre for Social Research and …

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