used by 35,000 British children
Nina Goswami and Gemma Brosnan
February 6, 2006
UP TO 35,000 British children under the
age of 16 are using heroin, official figures show.
The alarming scale of heroin abuse by
children is revealed a week after an 11-year-old girl
collapsed at her school desk in Glasgow after smoking the
Until now, figures on heroin addiction
among children were based on research collated in just two
cities, Glasgow and Newcastle upon Tyne, where 90 heroin
addicts under 13 were discovered.
But new government figures based on a
nationwide survey, show that the problem is much more
widespread than originally thought.
Doctors said the figure showed that heroin
was a ticking "health time bomb" and parents called for
urgent action by the Government.
Gaille McCann, a spokeswoman for Mothers
Against Drugs, said: "They keep trying to reassure us that
there isn't a crisis but they need to stop pretending and
act quickly before the situation gets out of control."
Paul Skett, an addiction expert from
Glasgow University, warned that heroin abuse could cause
serious long-term damage to children's health. "Heroin
affects the brain, hormonal and sexual development which
means children won't develop properly and girls might not be
able to have children when they are older," Dr Skett said.
The Government findings, from the study
Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England
in 2004, says that in each year since 2000 1 per cent of
all children used heroin at least once.
More than 9700 children aged 11 to 15 were
interviewed. A similar survey was conducted in Scotland,
where the same percentage of heroin users was found among
Elizabeth Fuller, the lead statistician on
the government survey, said that the figure was rounded up
from 0.7 per cent but margins of error meant that the figure
could be 0.5 per cent or 0.9 per cent - putting the
nationwide number of children taking heroin at between
19,500 and 35,100.
However, Professor Neil McKeganey, a
narcotics expert from Glasgow University, said the figure
could be much higher than 35,000 and would continue to rise.
"Around 300,000 children growing up in the
UK have one or both parents addicted to heroin. These
children assume heroin use is quite normal," he said.
Andrew Lansley, the British shadow health
secretary called for effective measures to make young people
awareness of the risks.
A Department of Health spokesman said they
had made sure that all schools receive guidance on solvents,
drugs and alcohol.