Children & drug rehab: 9-year-olds among thousands seeking help with their addiction

By Lunar Loops · Nov 19, 2007 ·
  1. Lunar Loops
    Could have placed this in the Recovery and Addiction forum, but thought it was of more general interest. This from The Independent (UK):

    Children & drug rehab: Nine-year-olds among thousands seeking help with their addiction problems

    Family breakdown and school exclusion are just two factors that are turning Britain's youngsters into drug abusers, especially of cannabis. Last year, more than 9,000 went into treatment – an increase of 20 per cent. Brian Brady and Nina Lakhani report

    Published: 18 November 2007

    Thousands of British children are receiving treatment for drug abuse as stresses including family breakdown and expulsion from school fuel a rise in young people appealing for help with their addictions.
    Official figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday have revealed that more than 9,000 children aged as young as nine entered treatment for drug problems in England last year. The total, revealed by health ministers, was up a fifth on the figure for 2005-06.
    More than half the young people in residential treatment units or reporting to GPs and community action teams list cannabis as the main drug they are abusing. But, in a disturbing signal that abuse of class A drugs is creeping into Britain's playgrounds, the proportion of young people in treatment listing cannabis as their principal drug is falling.
    The latest Department of Health figures come only days after the school inspection organisation, Ofsted, warned that one in seven 12- to 15-year-olds had tried illegal drugs.
    Experts warned that the rising toll of disclosed drug problems did not tell the full story, as many youngsters were suffering in silence – or refusing to accept that their drug use had become a problem. But they insisted that the most of the youngsters involved were turning to drugs in a desperate attempt to deal with a mountain of problems.
    "We are working with about 3,000 young people across the country, and the age they start coming to us is getting lower," said Clare McNeil, a policy officer for the drug treatment charity Addaction. "We know that so many of the young people who have problems in this area just are not getting treatment anywhere. These figures are the tip of the iceberg." Ms McNeil said problems at school were emerging as a central factor. She added: "One of the main indicators for young people beginning to use drugs dramatically enough to warrant treatment is exclusion from school."
    The argument is backed up by east London teenager Scott Jacobs' experiences. He turned to cannabis to help him through the trauma of troubles at home – and he found an instant escape.
    "My mum and her boyfriend were arguing in the house all the time and smoking helped me to sleep through the rows and just feel a bit happier," he said. "I started smoking with my mates at weekends and liked the buzz straight away.
    "I started having trouble getting up for school and ended up bunking off and smoking more, about £10 worth everyday back then. The teachers wouldn't let me take my GCSEs as I had missed too many classes, and by then I was only hanging out with my mates who smoked."
    Earlier this year, the Government responded to mounting concerns over the "patchy" coverage of young people's drug treatment services across the country – and fears that thousands like Scott were being overlooked – with a declaration that every young person should be guaranteed "access to high-quality specialist substance misuse treatment provision when they need it".
    The latest government figures demonstrate the size of the task ahead of them. Almost 7,500 nine- to-15-year-olds entered drug treatment programmes in 2005-06, but the total rose to 9,031 last year. Although the number reporting cannabis as their main drug rose from 4,567 to 5,037, the proportion fell from 61 per cent to 56 per cent over the period. The steep rise in the rate of users of other drugs entering treatment backed up the findings of a poll of drug workers earlier this year, which revealed an increase in younger people appealing for help with a cocaine problem.
    The survey of staff at 80 drug services in 20 towns and cities, carried out by the charity Drugscope, established that a "two-tier" pricing structure had opened the cocaine market to younger and younger people.
    Figures from the National Treatment Agency (NTA) showed a rise in the number of children entering drug treatment with cocaine as their main problem drug in 2005-06. In 2004-05 there were 231 cases involving under 18s, but the figure rose to 471 the following year.
    Drugscope spokesman Harry Shapiro said the rise was closely linked to an increase in the stresses facing Britain's youth, documented in a shocking United Nations survey that put the UK bottom of an international table of child well-being.
    He said: "Our teams have been expressing concerns about young people and their use of class A drugs, as well as cannabis, for some while. Young people who have the most problems in their lives are those who are the heaviest users of drugs such as cannabis. Clearly, if children have a difficult background, with poverty, unemployment and dysfunctional families, the chances that they are going to self-medicate with drugs are that much higher."
    An internal Addaction survey this year found the range of problems facing modern children had taken a terrible toll on their lives – and the stability of their families. "We found that over half the families we help had broken down," Clare McNeil said. "In a third of those families, the main reason for the breakdown was the young person's abuse of drugs or alcohol."
    The NTA, however, maintains that the steep rise in the numbers of young people in treatment was proof that the Government's strategy was working – not that the problem was getting out of control. The new figures on young people in treatment reflected "the massive improvements that have been made over the past few years in engaging more people in effective drug treatment".
    An NTA spokeswoman said teams were now working with a range of young people experiencing problems with family relationships, school attendance or offending. The spokeswoman added: "The increasing numbers accessing treatment as a result of cannabis use demonstrates that treatment services are getting better at engaging those in need of treatment, despite an overall reduction in the prevalence of cannabis use."
    The system has, so far, failed to reach people like Danny Fitz, an 18-year-old from east London, who claims he has been "pretty much stoned 24/7" since starting smoking skunk three years ago after leaving school with no qualifications.
    "I know I smoke too much but I'm addicted now," Danny explained. "If I don't have weed I can't sleep. I'm moody and irritable with my family so I just smoke as much as I can afford.
    "If I haven't had enough before I go to sleep I wake up in the middle of the night and have to roll a spliff, and I always start my day with one."
    It is a story Suzy Stride has heard many times before. Ms Stride, senior manager of City Gateway, a popular east London youth project working with "at risk" young people who are not in education or training, said her clients often come from difficult family backgrounds and have friends who want to be drug dealers. The schooling system has nearly always failed them.
    But, while government experts maintain that the rise in treatment numbers reflected an improvement in services for young drug users, grass-roots workers such as Ms Stride warn that even these figures masked a more worrying trend among young people who saw no problems with their cannabis use.
    She said: "Cannabis is the biggest curse on the youth generation because they don't see it as a problem. It is seen as completely normal because everyone is doing it.
    "I grew up here and there is much more weed around than ever before. I can see what it is doing to them on the streets. Lots of young people can't do anything without a spliff. They need cannabis to sleep, to feel confident. They totally depend on it."
    The point is underlined by Imran, 18, who started smoking his older brother's cannabis when he was 11 years old and had dropped out of school by the time he was 14. He does not see his habit as a problem.
    "I do smoke too much because I spend most of my money on it," said Imran. "I do feel a bit paranoid after smoking sometimes, I think people in the street are looking at me, but it doesn't bother me; it's just my mind playing tricks. I don't think smoking is doing me any harm. In fact, it makes me feel calmer – it feels like meditating."
    Ms Stride said cannabis abuse limited young users' ability to have fun, as well as "learning and getting skilled up and ready for jobs". Results of Ofsted's TellUs2 online survey last week revealed that 15 per cent of children aged between 12 and 15 said they had experimented with illegal drugs, most often cannabis, but also heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.
    Ofsted's chief inspector of education, Christine Gilbert, urged ministers to take the findings seriously. She said: "The survey presents much that is positive about life for children... However, it is also clear that more needs to be done to address children and young people's worries and concerns about how safe they feel, about exams and tests, and about what would help them learn better and where they need to go for help when they have a problem."
    But the shadow children's minister, Tim Loughton, claimed the findings offered more evidence of Britain's "broken society". He added: "Gordon Brown is in denial about this problem, which is why his Government is unable to offer any solutions to it."
    A Department of Health spokesman yesterday insisted that the treatment figures prove that the Government's war on drugs among children and young people is working.
    He said: "These figures reflect the massive improvements that have been made over the past few years in engaging more people in effective drug treatment. In terms of cannabis, we have seen, both through the Department of Health's school survey and the British crime survey, a reduction in cannabis use across all age groups."
    This positive view of how young people are coping with life in Britain is not borne out by Danny Fitz, who does not expect to kick his addiction any time soon. "I did try to get help from my GP once but I never went back to see her," he said. "Maybe I should have, but I think I'm too young to get help. I just need a job. I would definitely smoke less if I was working.
    "I have been caught twice but only got a caution, so I'm not worried about the police. I would love to be a social smoker, just one before work, one at lunchtime and then in the evening. Once I've got a job that's what I'll do."

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