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Drugs gain victory over rural areas
“I always wanted to give my children a childhood like the one I experienced myself: playing in the woods, running in the fields, playing with children in the neighbourhood. Nothing to worry about, no cars, no strangers; as long as I was home on time, everything was OK.” Such expressions can be heard these days from nearly every inhabitant of the little village of Bloxham in Oxfordshire. It is now three weeks since fifteen-year-old Lindsay Bradford was found on the local primary school playground with an overdose of cocaine. The girl was taken to hospital at the last minute, and is now recovering in a clinic specializing in teenage drug problems. The tragedy clearly shocked everyone in the village, especially parents, who have now set up an association against drug abuse among teenagers. The group meets once a week to develop a strategy covering the following key factors: Observance, Awareness, Involvement. “Facing the problem of drugs in the life of our teenagers does not just mean complaining about the bad times we live in. Everyone has to get involved if we really want to change something,” says Larry White, spokesperson of the group and father of three. Lindsay’s story is every parent’s worst nightmare, and a strong reminder that simply living in the country is no defence against the problems more usually associated with urban areas. The countryside’s idyllic cottages and picturesque villages often mask a multitude of underlying problems, particularly for frustrated and bored young people who are turning to drugs and crime in ever-increasing numbers. The sleepy market towns of Spalding and Boston in Lincolnshire were recently revealed to have the third highest rate of drug-related deaths in England and Wales: eleven last year, higher than parts of London. According to the British Crime Survey, at least 6% of youngsters in the countryside take class A drugs, only 2% below the level in inner cities. The drug epidemic is not limited to the poor or uneducated, as Lindsay’s example shows. Her parents were horrified when their well-behaved, polite teenage daughter became moody and withdrawn and got involved with a gang of difficult teenagers at Banbury Comprehensive School, which Lindsay attended. They discovered that she was taking drugs, including cannabis and amphetamines, and were shocked to learn that she had acted as a lookout while the gang stole watches and money during an after-school club session. “Her behaviour changed,” says her mother. “Her school-work suffered. She started lying about where she was going and who she was with – hard to check when we could only contact her on her mobile phone. She then stole from us to buy drugs, and when we tried to talk to her, she ran away from home. We’d been worrying for five days when she was finally found in the schoolyard.” The family puts Lindsay’s problems down to peer group pressure and boredom with life in a small village like Bloxham, where there is little for teenagers to do and few people her own age. Drug-taking has apparently become a routine part of village life for teenagers. “A friend’s son, brought up in Yorkshire, confessed that he and his friends would comb the fields for ‘magic’ mushrooms, and that at school, at least half of his contemporaries smoked cannabis,” explains Professor Mark Rellis, director of the Centre for Public Health at Oxford University, who supports the work of the ‘Bloxham Initiative against Drug Abuse’ (BIaDA). “Young people get increasing amounts of drug information via television, youth magazines and the Internet,” he says. “Once-expensive drugs are now affordable, and there is more mixing of populations through rock festivals and other events which attract teenagers, so it would be surprising if the overall rise in drug use were not mirrored in rural areas.” A local boy says, “It’s no wonder half the kids around here are on drugs. There’s nothing else to do!” This is exactly where BIaDA wants to start its offensive. “We have to give our kids something to do in their free time,” says Larry White. “We have decided to build a new youth centre, and many citizens have volunteered to offer activities such as computer courses, setting up a news magazine for teenagers in the region, as well as all kinds of outdoor activities. We are also planning to work together with Oxford University to offer help for those families who have drug problems, no matter who in the family is addicted. We want to show both kids and parents that they’re not alone, and that together we can make it. Observe what happens around you, be aware of what you see and take the initiative whenever it’s necessary.”
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