A BOY of 12 was the youngest person to seek help for drug abuse in the Isle of Man last year.
The revelation comes in the annual report of the Drug Advice Service and Helpline (DASH).
But the 12-year-old, referred to DASH for cannabis abuse, is not the youngest child seen by the charity. It has also helped a 10-year-old cannabis user in recent years.
In the past 12 months the charity helped a 16-year-old who was injecting heroin.
The shock report by DASH explains the biggest problem drug in the Island is cannabis, followed by cocaine and heroin.
It reveals the number of new clients under the age of 18 increased dramatically by 88 per cent following the appointment of a new young persons drug support worker.
There was a five per cent increase in the number of new people coming forward for help over the past 12 months.
The confidential drug service saw an extra 270 people who had not used it before, while access to the service rose by 45 per cent overall with existing clients using it more regularly and attending more appointments.
The majority of referrals of people under 16 were cannabis users.
Shelly Stanley, DASH director said: 'Drug use by young people does happen and while dependency is rare in early teens it is important confidential services such as ours continue to be able to reach people early to try to prevent drug use continuing into adulthood and improve outcomes for young people.'
The report says it was of great concern that DASH had seen an increase in the number of people using the service. It says this could be because more users wanted to leave drugs behind them or it could mean that drugs are more accessible or affordable.
It says the past year has seen a fall of 48 per cent in heroin users accessing the service — which could be due to better referral pathways to treatment or simply that the Island is following the trend in the UK with heroin users getting older. Their place is being taken by users of stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines or cannabis and alcohol.
But other problem drugs causing concern are the illicit use of benzodiazepines such as Diazepam and legal highs such as Mephedrone (referred to as 'Plant Food').
'This is significant if the Island is to meet the presenting change in demand for services,' notes the report.
'Services need to be geared towards this as stimulant drug users require very different services to those for cannabis or heroin users.'
The majority of those seeking help from DASH were dependent or on the verge of dependency and were spending, on average, between £10 and £70 per week. A small minority, heavily dependent, were spending £70 per week or more on their cannabis use.
Young people dependent on drugs are not common although it does occur — the majority of use under the age of 18 is experimental or recreational and drug dependency seen by DASH is generally in the late teen to late 20s, the largest drug using group.
DASH's latest annual report says that of those engaging with the service to address problematic drug use, 71 per cent were successful in stopping, compared with an average of just 11 per cent in the UK.
Miss Stanley said: 'This could not have been achieved without the dedication and expertise of staff and their clients working together.
'More people are back in work or education; family relationships and health improved and whilst difficult to measure on paper, the impact of that on communities cannot be underestimated.'
The 88 per cent increase in clients under 18 is being linked to the appointment of young person's drug support worker part-funded by Lloyds TSB Foundation for England and Wales.
Chairman Hazel Hannan said funding this year had been a 'real concern.'
She said: 'At one point we thought we may not be able to carry on. Local support and donors who believed in our work helped us through a very difficult patch.'
The Department of Health and Social Services provides DASH with an annual grant of £64,450. Mrs Hannan said with limited resources and premises, the charity could only manage an increase in the number of clients by introducing waiting lists.
'This of course is not ideal,' she said.
By ADRIAN DARBYSHIRE
July 15, 2009