Young people today are more interested in checking their Facebook profiles and sending BBMs than rolling joints or dealing drugs, a leading expert suggested yesterday.
Just under one in five people aged 16 to 24 used an illicit drug in the past year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, one of the lowest levels since the survey began a decade and a half ago.
While cannabis remains the drug of choice, its use has almost halved among the younger generation since 1998. It is now at its lowest levels since records began.
Though the economic downturn and shifting drug market might have played a part, Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, suggested that social media has helped to turn young people off drugs. He said that this could be down to the fact that young people today "communicate and socialise in a different way" via social media, Facebook, and computers.
Speaking on the Today programme, he said: "I was talking to a colleague [who] works with young people and [she] says they don't actually hang out as much as they used to.
"It could be, if they are on Blackberry all the time, that that's the way they socialise and communicate; you don't want to be doing that and having a spliff at the same time."
Mr Barnes added that the "very profound" shift in young people's attitudes to drugs could also be down to economic factors, the success of education programmes and investment in young people's services, as well as the different quality of cannabis that is now available on the streets, compared to a decade ago.
Dr Alan Winstock, an addiction psychiatrist and founder of the Global Drug Survey, said he thought the biggest factor behind the declining use of cannabis was that it was no longer as affordable.
"An eighth, or 3.5 grams, costs about £30 today… In 1990, it was about £15.
"Now, you can buy a couple of cans of White Lightning cider, which is eight units of alcohol, for a couple of quid. Cannabis is no longer seen as good bang for your buck."
Mr Barnes said the decline in drug use among young people has "largely been happening under the policy radar" and, as a result, there was not a lot of understanding about the situation.
"We have to try and better understand this trend while keeping investment in and around treatment and prevention going."
'I can't afford to waste my time taking drugs'
George Zelonka, 15, who lives in London and attends school in Sussex, said: "Taking drugs is definitely not cool any more, if it ever was. There are still kids my age who drink and take drugs, but there's a real split; and I'd say the number who do is getting smaller."
"I wouldn't say it's to do with social media; there are all sorts of reasons. Our generation is growing up in a world where we have to work hard and study hard if we want to have a chance of getting good jobs and careers. I want to be a film director. It's a very competitive field, so I know I can't afford to waste my time doing drugs – it's not relevant to my life.
"I've been to quite a few schools over the years and you can always tell when someone's on drugs. It's not exactly a good look, it's not something I aspire to.
"I've spoken to my parents about it. They talk about their schooldays and how drugs were around back then. I know they would never want me to do something like that."