Drugs hotline gives teens wrong advice

The Government’s drugs helpline is telling 13-year-olds that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol, it has been revealed.

When a reporter rang the FRANK helpline posing as a teenager who was worried about the consequences of taking an ecstasy tablet, the adviser said “take a half of one and see how you go and if you are handling that ok, you can take the other half”.

The reporter was also told they would probably “be able to have spliff” after taking ecstasy without any major side-effects.

Drugs experts have expressed alarm at the inaccurate information being offered by the telephone helpline, FRANK, which received £6.5 million in public funding in 2008-09.

During the calls the Sunday Telegraph reporters were told not to worry about occasionally smoking cannabis and were asked what would be achieved by telling a friend’s parents they had begun using the drug.

A reporter posing as a 13-year-old worried about a friend using cannabis was told: “If you just keep it at weekends, I don’t think it’s likely to cause him any major problems.”

Neil McKeganey, professor of drug misuse research, University of Glasgow, called the advice “misplaced, pro drug propaganda, targeted at young people and dressed up as advice and support”.

He warned: “Research has shown that the younger the age at which someone starts to smoke cannabis the greater the likelihood that they will experience serious mental health problems as a result of their drug use.”

The Home Office recently referred to FRANK as “the key channel by which government communicates the dangers of drugs, including cannabis, to young people”.

Responding to the weekend’s disclosures, a spokesman for the department said it was “urgently looking into the matter and will identify the person or persons involved and take action”.

When asked earlier this month about the training of FRANK advisers, health minister Dawn Primarolo said in a written answer that they were given “a comprehensive training programme” including “a number of themes such as drugs and their effects, attitudes and awareness of drugs, how problematic drug use affects children and families and child protection”.

She added that only “individuals who have worked in relevant settings, for example the drugs field, counselling, nursing or social work, and who have excellent communication skills are recruited to become FRANK advisers”.

Cannabis was reclassified as a class B drug last year after a campaign by police chiefs and medical experts pointing out the harm associated with it. It had been moved down to class C in 2004.

The Government came under fire earlier this year after it emerged that teenagers were being given tips on how to smoke cannabis in a booklet called Know Cannabis.