Report: Youngsters are turning to the hard stuff

There has been a slight increase in the number of illegal drugs but a huge rise in the amount of alcohol being consumed by schoolchildren, according to the latest annual report by the National Center for Documentation and Information on Drugs and Addition (EKTEPN) issued this week. Cannabis continues to top the list among the general population, as well as among schoolchildren, 14.8 percent of whom (20.6 percent of boys and 9.2 percent of girls) say they have tried it at least once. Inhaled narcotic substances are the next most popular with 16- and 17-year-olds, although figures have been declining slightly in the past few years (13 percent in 2002 compared to 13.5 percent in 1999). Another 4.6 percent say they have tried tranquillizers and sleeping pills at least once in their lives (down from 5.4 percent in 1999). Only 2.5 percent of schoolchildren admit to having taken ecstasy, and 2.3 percent to LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. The survey, carried out in cooperation with the University Institute for Mental Health Research, was funded by the state rehabilitation organization, OKANA. Over 4,900 questionnaires were distributed to pupils in the second and third year of senior high school. Among the general population, the number of drug-related deaths was put at 218 in 2003, nearly all of which were from heroin use, 2.6 percent from amphetamines and 1.7 percent from cocaine. Men of Greek origin accounted for nearly all the deaths (93.1 percent), 94 percent of them unmarried and 84.5 percent unemployed. «An important finding in the report is the fact that for the first time we can safely say there has been a decline in the number of drug deaths,» said Manina Terzidou, who is EKTEPN’s scientific director. Of considerable concern is the rise in the amount of alcohol being consumed, along with the perception among schoolchildren that alcohol is not harmful. The greatest danger, according to the report, is the greater risk of causing an accident. About 65 percent of the boys questioned said they had drunk alcohol more than 40 times, compared to 40.1 percent of girls. Beer consumption has been on the decline since 1999; 27.8 percent of pupils say they have drunk wine more than three times in their lives. There has been a rapid increase (13.8 percent) in the consumption of hard drinks. Four in 10 boys and 28.7 percent of girls say they have got drunk at least once. Health reasons were cited as the third most important reason one should not drink alcohol; causing an accident was seen as the most important, with the fear of causing trouble at home coming second.