Neil McKeganey

Pre-teen drug misuse: a challenge for policy and practice in the United Kingdom

This paper will review recent data on the nature and extent of illegal drug use amongst pre-teens within the UK. On the basis of research conducted within the US, early age of onset of illegal drug use is one of the strongest predictors of the development of longer term problem drug use especially where such early onset occurs alongside other behavioural problems. Surveys conducted within the UK have identified that by age 12 as much as 10% of young people may have begun to at least experiment with illegal drugs. In this paper I will identify some of the risk factors associated with early onset of illegal drug use. The paper will also raise questions about the various challenges to policy and service provision which such pre-teen drug misuse poses and will make the case that this is an area which we have neglected in favour of a focus upon what may appear to be more problematic forms of drug misuse. There is a strong possibility that many of those individuals who start to use illegal drugs by age 12 will go on to become the problematic drug users of tomorrow. A strong case can be made for meeting the needs of such pre-teen drug misusers however.