IRISH teenagers will be asked about their experiences of drink and drugs as part of a Europe-wide survey in schools early next year.
However, it is unclear yet if they will be asked about their use or otherwise of substances sold in head shops, whose operations have been clamped down on by recent legislation but which were hugely popular with teenagers and young adults.
The last European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs (ESPAD) research here in 2007 showed dramatic falls in the proportion of 15 and 16-year-olds who had used cannabis (20%) and ecstasy (4%) since 1995. The number who reported having used alcohol in the past fell in the same period from 91% to 86%, below the European average of 89%.
However, the overall usage rates are generally in line with the average figures in other European countries, where the use of illicit drugs has risen in the same period. The latest study also showed just over half of teenagers questioned had smoked cigarettes, down from almost three-in-four in 1995.
The Department of Health is now preparing work for next year’s survey to be carried out, with at least 2,800 students required to be included in the work. The research will be carried out at randomly selected schools around the country among 16-year-olds.
While the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs, which organises the survey every four years, sets out the questions which must be asked, individual countries may also choose to seek additional information from students.
The Irish Examiner understands it has yet to be decided if questions about the use of substances from head shops will be included in the survey of Irish teenagers.
The department’s deadline for tenders to act as the principal investigator passes today and it is likely that any decision on additional questions will be reached between the researchers and department officials at a later date.
The Irish report of the most recent research, published 18 months ago, did not highlight the use of legal highs available from head shops although the survey was carried out in 2007 just a little before the prevalence of these premises here.
The Psychoactive Substances Act 2010 which came into effect a fortnight ago makes it an offence, with punishments of up to five years in jail on conviction, for selling psychoactive drugs. About one-quarter of almost 40 head shops known to have been selling highs which were previously legal closed their doors within days of the law coming into force.
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