Hundreds of under-16s in Northern Ireland have snorted cocaine

Hundreds of children across Northern Ireland have tried the potentially deadly drug cocaine before they are 16-years-old, a survey has revealed today.

The findings of the study — one of the largest school-based surveys carried out in the UK and Ireland — has sparked concern about the easy access to the class A drug in society.

Published by Queen’s University Belfast, the survey, which involved questioning 4,000 teenagers in 43 schools through their post-primary education, revealed that 7.5 per cent of young people who took part had experimented with cocaine at least once by the age of 16.

According to the study children were getting access to the drug by “older friends” and then dealers.

The research was conducted by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work.

“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,” Dr Patrick McCrystal, senior research fellow at the Institute of Child Care Research, said.

“It also indicates that the profile of cocaine users may be changing.

“In the 1990s 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.”

The survey revealed that 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,” Dr McCrystal said.

“Older 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.”

The survey did show that of those who had taken cocaine, only one in 10 used it on a weekly basis.

“This indicates that while some teenagers have experimented with the drug, few continue to use it regularly,” he said.

However, Dr McCrystal said the 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.”