THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Friday 29th July 2011

Yesterday, I did some blatant cherry-picking from the British Crime Survey’s ‘Drug Misuse Disclosed’ report and, today, I’ll do the same for the NHS report entitled ‘Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2010’.

I mentioned that it is hard to do a direct read across from one report to the other so it is not easy to see how attitudes formed by the 11-15-year old group develop or change for the 16-24-year olds. One of the constraints is that the BCS covers England and Wales whereas, as its title states, the NHS report is only about England.

As an aside, given that health is dealt with by the devolved administrations, it might be time to stop talking about a National Health Service and instead refer to the EHS, WHS, SHS and NIHS to reflect that health policy may be different in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The first thing I noticed in the summary of the report is a tendency to want to produce a good read rather than presenting realistic comparisons. Thus, the summary states ‘It is estimated that in 2010 around 150,000 young people in this age group were regular smokers, around 400,000 had drunk alcohol in the last week, around 200,000 had taken drugs (including glue, gas and other volatile substances) in the last month and around 380,000 had taken drugs in the last year’*.

*Copyright © 2011, Health and Social Care Information Centre, Lifestyles Statistics.

You have to look elsewhere to establish that ‘regular smokers’ are those who smoke at least once a week. This may lead you to conclude that the 150,000 regular smokers is a direct comparison with the 400,000 drinkers but that is not the case. There is a difference between drinking in the last week and drinking at least once a week. In fact the survey finds that 13% of respondents had drunk in the last week but only 8% said they normally drank at least once a week. That suggests that the direct comparison is between 150,000 ‘regular’ i.e. weekly smokers and 250,000 ‘regular’ drinkers.

Then, when it comes to drugs, the switch is from weekly use to monthly prevalence. I’m afraid I suspect that the weekly prevalence doesn’t give a dramatic enough number for the report’s purposes.

As far as accuracy is concerned, I do have concerns about whether this survey achieves a high enough standard. Unlike the BCS survey, which involves participants entering responses directly into a computer, the NHS survey is conducted on paper and I can’t help thinking that some pupils would be concerned about their responses being identifiable from their writing. (Though most responses are of the ‘tick box’ variety, there are some occasions where a number of word has to be entered.) Like the BCS, the survey includes Semeron, a fictional substance, and the conclusion that responses are honest because only 13 of the 7,296 respondents said they had used it could be false. It may simply be that the respondents know enough about drugs to recognise that Semeron is a phony.

All these concerns make me think that, perhaps even more so than with the BCS survey, only trends may be useful rather than absolute numbers on an annual basis.

And because some data is presented by age, it is possible to examine whether the reported trends ‘feel’ right. Since last year’s 14-year olds, for example, become this year’s 15-year olds, it may be possible to see if there is an inconsistency in the develop of both usage of substances and attitudes towards them. Take the number of regular smokers at age 14 versus 15. You would expect the number of smokers to increase with age, and it does, but the increase varies from 15% to 67% year on year but with no trend.

The last week prevalence of drinking alcohol seems to display an odd result. In every year, previously, the figure for 15 year-olds was higher than 14-year olds by at least 9 percentage points and up to 15 points. But the 2010 15-year olds have only 5 percentage points higher prevalence than 2009’s 14-year olds. The lower prevalence figures that seem to apply throughout for 2010 may, therefore, be an anomaly and, to be fair to the authors, they do seem to acknowledge this by talking about the need to see if next year’s results continue the trends.

This is a 233 page report against ‘Drug Misuse Disclosed’s 47 pages so there is a great deal of detail but I can’t help wondering if the data has been over-analysed. I may return to specific parts of it in coming blogs but, for now, I’ll just return to that misleading paragraph I quoted in full, above, and try and find proper comparisons between smoking, alcohol and drugs.

Looking just at last week prevalence, 7% of respondents reported smoking, 13% reported drinking alcohol and X% reported using drugs. I’ve put ‘X%’ because the survey does not collect weekly prevalence figures for drug use. The monthly prevalence for drug use, at 7%, indicates that both smoking and drinking alcohol are bigger issues for the education system than drugs. Though there is a clear trend toward reduced smoking and drinking, there is no room for complacency. 


Full Entries


Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.