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Two to 3 percent of eighth- and ninth-grade students take Ecstasy, or smoke marijuana or hash, 9 percent inhale vaporous substances such as glue, Tipex, or air-conditioning gas, 23 percent consume hard alcohol and around 15 percent smoke cigarettes regularly, according to a study commissioned by the Education Ministry. The Hoffman-Martins Research Institute, which conducted the survey, was charged with checking the effectiveness of anti-drug programs in schools.

The study showed there was almost no difference found between students exposed to the programs and those who never attended a single session.

As part of the study, some 13,000 students aged 14 to 15 who attend 121 schools all over the country were asked about their drug and alcohol habits.

"How many times in the past month did you use each of the following substances?" the students were asked. All the data was gathered approximately three years ago, however the ministry released the complete study only recently.

According to the findings, around 10 percent of students are interested in trying Ecstasy, 15 percent would like to try smoking pot or hash and around 14 percent want to try inhaling Tipex, glue or air-conditioning gas.

Students were asked: Is it possible to obtain marijuana or hash at school or nearby?

Around 30 percent of the students answered yes.

Another 19 percent or so noted that it was only sometimes possible to score such drugs at school.

When asked if they would like to buy such drugs if they knew who or where to turn, around 10 percent of the youths responded affirmatively and 22 percent said "maybe yes and maybe no."

The survey also asked how many of their peers used various drugs. Around 8 percent knew people who used Ecstasy, 16 percent or so noted they knew more than one student who smoked marijuana or hash and around 26 percent know students who inhale Tipex, glue or air-conditioner gas.

Most of the students did express reservations over the use of drugs, but around 22 percent of those surveyed noted that "vaporous substances" are not considered a harmful drug, and around 8 percent felt that the use of grass was not harmful.

Almost 42 percent of the students agreed that "there is no real way to prevent drug use among youth." Twenty-three percent noted that they drink alcoholic beverages and 22 percent indicated they smoke hookahs.

The study sharply criticized the Education Ministry's drug prevention programs for these age groups and stated "the schools do not run the programs in a systematic, planned and coordinated manner with other programs," something that is likely to "create wasted resources, on one hand, and confusion and lack of interest among students, on the other hand."

The report further stated "the programs offered are usually eclectic, with the components of the programs being chosen at the discretion of the person running it, who is not always familiar with its structure and its rationale."

Moreover, the findings "indicate a lack of effectiveness in the drug-prevention programs. There is no point in continuing the programs in the present format," the researchers determined.

The ministry said in response that "the study found that most students rule out the use of drugs and only a minority reported the use of drugs." The ministry said it implemented the study's recommendations to operate a program throughout the school years to strengthen a student's ability to cope and life skills as a means of reducing drug use.

"The issue of drug prevention is integrated into the framework of the required curriculum of life skills," said the ministry.

In the previous school year the "life skills" program replaced the previous ministry anti-drug and alcohol use program.

The new program stresses the students' ability to cope with different situations from questions of social status in the class to the problems of adolescence.

So far programs have been set up for elementary and junior-high schools, and for the coming school year, the ministry's psychological and guidance service is formulating similar programs for early childhood and for grades 10-12.