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Drugs (Young People)

Volume 508: debated on Monday 22 March 2010

9. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s steps to tackle drug-taking by young people. (322947)

We are committed to preventing and reducing drug use by young people. Drug use among young people has continued to fall over the last decade—

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Under-Secretary, but I think that she is seeking to group this question with Question 11.

Fifteen per cent. of young people aged 11 to 15 used drugs in 2008, compared with 20 per cent. in 2001.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Mephedrone, the substance that contributed to the deaths of two young men last week, is a legal high that can allegedly be bought for as little as £4. Should the Government not take more seriously the threat that legal highs pose? What steps is the Minister taking to get across to young people the consequences of taking such substances?

The hon. Gentleman makes very important points about a very worrying issue. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is reviewing mephedrone and other legal highs as a priority, after a schedule of work that the Home Secretary set last summer. The report on mephedrone is due on 29 March, and if we need to lay an order before Parliament in order to get a measure through, we will do so.

The Minister will know that legal highs are killing young people. She will know also that many headmasters and headmistresses throughout the country believe that consideration should be given to banning these drugs. When will the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report on that matter and, I hope, say that those drugs will be banned, so that young people are not tempted to take them to get a temporary high—and do not kill themselves in the process?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to my previous answer: 29 March. However, we seek to continue to educate young people and their parents about the matter, mainly through the Frank website, which has reported on mephedrone issues in particular since September and has regular updated guidance.

Does my hon. Friend believe that the Government invest enough money in early intervention programmes, which result in less criminalisation of so many of our young people later in their lives?

We always keep an eye on that issue, but we already invest more than £55 million each year in tackling young people’s substance misuse, and that includes funding treatment, area-based grant work for under-18s’ misuse, Positive Futures and the Frank website.

At the last Home Office questions in February, when the use among young people of legal highs such as mephedrone was discussed, the Home Secretary said that the consideration of the issue was now an absolute priority for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the Government. Yet it is reported today that the Home Office was advised five years ago of the problem of those synthetic drugs being bought online. Why did the Government fail to act sooner?

The Government have acted, and I shall explain a little of the background to the report to which I believe the hon. Gentleman refers. It was a report on the internet discussing the availability of psychoactive medications only, and our drug laws apply a criminal sanction whatever the route of availability. That report was looking at, and horizon-scanning on, drug futures up to 2025. It set out possibilities rather than realities and made no recommendations to the Government. However, as a result of a number of issues, the Government commissioned more work, and that led last year to the Home Secretary asking the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look at this, which it is doing to its normal time scales.