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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 1572 ..

Drugs in schools

Discussion of matter of public importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received a letter from Mr Pratt proposing that a matter of public importance be submitted to the Assembly for discussion, namely:

The alarming increase in drug usage by high school students as reflected in the 1999 ACT Secondary Schools Alcohol and Drugs Survey Report, released last week.

MR PRATT (4.14): Mr Speaker, the health report and drug survey handed down on Monday this week, via the 1999 ACT secondary schools alcohol and drugs survey-ASSAD-provides an alarming picture of drug-taking among school children. The report describes a situation which is now two years old. Clearly this report, compared to earlier ones, indicates an alarming upward trend in drug usage among school children. Significantly, I have seen no indications that give any confidence that things have improved in the past two years, since the end of that reporting period.

The report analysed the habits of 2,000 teenagers. In statistical terms, that is a reliable control group, conferring significant credibility. The report, therefore, is an important indicator of a very serious problem that the ACT community must face. Speaking personally, as a parent and as the shadow education spokesman, I find this situation unacceptable, and I am sure all other MLAs do too. As a community, we need to be jolted into action by this report. We must get our collective act together and move urgently on what I truly believe is one of the most serious issues facing the ACT.

Our children are our most important asset. Five per cent of teenagers reported using needles for cocaine and heroin, and an increase of 30 per cent for girls over the previous reporting period is of concern. I wonder how many teenagers did not report using shared needles. Fifty per cent of students polled reported regular or irregular substance abuse, representing nil improvement over the previous reporting period. Do we just shrug our shoulders and accept the situation as inevitable?

Mr Speaker, we know that primary responsibility for drugs, lifestyle and value education starts in the home. The buck stops with us. However, our schools play a very important and complementary role in drugs education. We entrust our children to schools for 30 per cent of their waking hours, for an entire year. Clearly, our anti-drugs campaign in the community generally-at home and at school-is not keeping pace with the rising trend, as characterised in this report, other national reports and through informal feedback.

The details of this report have shaken me. I have seen some really nasty substance abuse rates for societies in transition around the world. We are a developed country, a first world state, and this report is sobering news.

In addition to the alarming rates of 5 per cent of children using needles and 50 per cent using drugs, 59 per cent of 16-year-old males and a disturbing 65 per cent of 15-year-old girls reported using illegal drugs. That is an increase of 10 per cent over three years since previous reporting-and 15 per cent of children have used drugs recently.

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