SCHOOLCHILDREN in the Western Education and Library Board (WELB) have been drinking, smoking and getting drunk at levels above the Northern Ireland average, according to new figures released by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).
Research also shows that 19 per cent of pupils - almost one in five - throughout the WELB area admitted using drugs or solvents of some kind in their lifetime.
Older children were more likely to admit to recreational substance abuse and there was no appreciable difference between genders.
On a positive note drinking, smoking and drug use were all down from the equivalent figures for 2003 across Northern Ireland as a whole. Moreover cannabis suffered a slump in popularity amongst eleven to sixteen year olds in WELB schools, according to the Secondary Analysis of the 2007Young Persons' Behaviour and Attitude Survey of Drugs, Solvents, Alcohol and Smoking, which was published by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey's office last week.
The lifetime prevalence rate for the drug showed a drop from 13.4 per cent to 9.4 per cent between 2003 and 2007.
But the welcome decrease in the use of cannabis - a psychoactive drug thought by some to be responsible for the induction of schizophrenia in some users - was mirrored by an increase in the use of other harmful drugs.
"Poppers," a more common term for a variety of Amyl nitrites, some of which can be bought over-the-counter in Londonderry, enjoyed a statistically significant upsurge in popularity. Usage of the drug jumped from just 2.6 per cent to 5.4 per cent between 2003 and 2007.
More startlingly, use of the powerful hallucinogen Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) was also up from 1.2 per cent to 2.4 per cent.
Unsurprisingly drinking and smoking remain a common pursuit for schoolchildren in the Western area. The prevalence rate of drinking and drunkenness was 57 per cent amongst pupils attending WELB schools, placing schoolgoers here as the second most bibulous in the province.
And despite being exposed to endless health and educational programmes regarding the dangerous effects of tobacco and cigarettes, teenagers here smoke more than anywhere else in Northern Ireland.
Lifetime prevalence of smoking in WELB schools stood at 28 per cent. This was equalled in Belfast only.
The secondary analysis was carried out by Social Market Research (SMR) on behalf of the DHSSPS. It examined lifetime, last year and last month use of a range of drugs, including solvents.
It also examined age first used, regularity of use, and number of times pupils used these drugs or solvents. Information on alcohol consumption and smoking tobacco is also presented in the full report.