Evidence of a growing pre-teen drug problem in Britain emerged on Thursday with research showing that one in seven children have tried cannabis before the age of 13.
The study, reported by the EU's drug agency, says there has been an explosion in the number of children under 15 going into drug treatment across Europe. The annual report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction shows that the UK's drug problem among young teenagers is far worse than in any other EU country.
The research shows that 13 percent of British schoolchildren say they first tried cannabis before they were 13. This is much higher than any other European country -- it compares with 8 percent in the Netherlands and Ireland -- and is more than three times the EU average. Britain also accounts for most of the children under 15 who go into drug treatment each year, with 2,251 out of the 3,237 new patients in Europe, the latest figures show.
The number of young British children in treatment, mainly for using cannabis or sniffing inhalants, has grown threefold from 797 in 2000.
The European report says a main factor in the crisis is children growing up in the families of Britain's 330,000 problem drug users: "Research found that at the age of 15, young people whose parents had used drugs during the previous year were more than twice as likely to have used drugs than those whose parents had not used drugs," it reported, adding that drug use by elder brothers and sisters can also be a factor.
The report says that targeting such families, as well as developing treatment programs for the very young, now needs to be a priority. The EU drugs agency also said that the growth of cocaine use in Britain and Spain had proved to be a precursor of a new boom in cocaine use across Europe.
The market has grown by a million new users in the past year alone, making it the second most popular illegal drug after cannabis. The EU agency reports that the European cocaine market grew by one million users in the last year, from 3.5 million regular cocaine users to 4.5 million. Spain has the highest level of cocaine abuse out of 29 countries across Europe, with consumption levels similar to the US.
In Spain, 5.2 percent of young adults aged 15 to 34 say they have used cocaine in the last 12 months, compared with 4.7 percent in the UK. The EU drug experts also said that the booming Afghan opium crop had yet to have much impact on the heroin situation in Europe.
Deaths from drug-use, however, remain at a historic high of between 7,000 and 8,000 each year across Europe. The report expressed "cautious optimism" about the use of cannabis, saying the European market had stabilized in the past year, with about three million using it on a daily basis and signs that its popularity among the young is waning.