The number of young people taking drugs in the district has been revealed.

For the past few months Epping Forest Youth Council members have been investigating drugs usage among their peers.

As well as launching a 'say no to gateway drugs' poster campaign and holding a drug paraphernalia litter pick, the councillors helped conduct an anonymous survey.

Of the 3,177 pupils who took part from the ten schools and colleges in the district, 359 or 11.3 per cent said they had tried drugs.

That puts Epping Forest way below the national average of youth drug takers, with a 2016 NHS survey finding 24 per cent of young people across the country had consumed an illegal substance.

By far the most used drugs were nitrous oxide - often referred to as No2 - and cannabis, which just over eight per cent of those surveyed had tried.

Around 2.5 per cent of young people had tried cocaine, ketamine and MDMA.

While the 81 per cent of students that thought drugs were available on the streets may come as no surprise, just shy of 40 per cent of those asked believed they can be purchased online through Snapchat and Instagram.

Breaking the results down by area, by far the area with the biggest perceived drug problem is the north east of Waltham Abbey, where 67 per cent of pupils thought drug taking was an issue.

In contrast, only 27.9 per cent of young people in Shelley near Ongar thought substance misuse was a concern.

Perhaps of most concern for parents is the ease with which young people can get drugs.

Across the district 69 per cent of respondents thought drugs were easy to get, with around 85 per cent of young people in Buckhurst Hill West and The Broadway confident they could get easily their hands on some narcotics.

That number was more than halved in Shelley.

Summarising their findings, a spokesperson for the youth council said: "We must not become complacent.

"Many of our findings are very encouraging, in particular that local drug use is significantly below the national average, and we should take pride in the fact that excellent work is already being done in the Epping Forest district to tackle this issue – but we must always remember that every young person taking drugs is one too many.

"Looking ahead to Epping Forest Youth Council’s future project, to build resilience to increase personal safety, assertiveness and awareness - be it of gangs, crimes, knives or drugs - we implore further investigation between the relationship between gang crime and drug use and how tackling each problem can help solve the other.

"As most street gangs are also in some way involved in the drug trade, it is crucial that the authorities continue to fund this valuable work particularly in relation to ‘county lines’ drug trading and child exploitation."

The youth council is now planning on lobbying the government to restrict the sale of No2 to under 18s by requiring a proof of age and taxing the companies which sell it.

No2 has a global warming potential of 310 times that of carbon dioxide.

The spokesperson added: "The Government could impose conditions to make companies produce more environmental packaging and should ban the use of canisters to contain NO2 as these are both an eyesore and environmentally destructive."