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Substance misuse figures require urgent response

30 November, 2005

Sinn Féin health spokesperson John O'Dowd MLA, has said that the release of a report yesterday by the Department of Health into drug, solvents and alcohol use and awareness among school children should provide the impetus for an urgent re-assessment of existing health promotion and health education programmes aimed towards school-children.

Mr O'Dowd said, "Today's report shows that 60% of pupils in the survey reported ever having taken an alcoholic drink. Just over one quarter (26%) had a drink in the last month prior to the survey. 23% of pupils in the survey reported having tried or used an illicit drug. What should be of particular concern to everyone is the startling fact that the average age for having the first drink is around 11 years and for first drug use it is around 12 years of age.

"Clearly there are issues which must be confronted as a result of this survey, not least of which would appear to be the apparent failure of existing health promotion and health education programmes aimed towards school-children to effectively put across their message.

The Sinn Féin Assemblyman added, "Furthermore, unless there is a an urgent re-assessment of those health promotion and health education programmes which are aimed towards school-children, then this problem will continue to grow. Added to this are the proposed changes to alcohol licensing laws which the British Government intend to introduce into the North.

"There are very, very few communities across the North, or across the whole of Ireland which are not affected by problems caused as a result of young people accessing alcohol and drugs. There needs to be a willingness within all levels of central and local government to develop a cross-departmental and cross-sectoral strategy and an effective approach in order to deal with those issues surrounding young people and their use of drugs, solvents and alcohol.

O'Dowd continued, "Promoting a healthy lifestyle should be a central element in developing such a strategy. It should also involve:

. Creating supportive environments, including physical environments that will promote health and healthy behaviour among young people;

. Strengthening community action. This involves strengthening social networks and support networks, in co-operation with local authorities, communities and other bodies to enable communities to develop their own alternatives to ensure the provision of alternative entertainment outlets that do not centre around the consumption of alcohol or drugs, including increased investment in youth services and sporting facilities;

. Developing personal skills. This involves promoting individual knowledge and skills so that people can have greater control over their own health;

. A ban on the sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol companies;

. Ongoing health promotion strategies should continue to target those most at risk;

. To implement a programme as part of the school curriculum, to raise awareness of the issues affecting children and young people;

. To develop programmes within the community to raise awareness with parents."

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