London Times Online
The number of children being treated for cocaine addiction has nearly doubled in four years, NHS figures show, with the drug’s “glamorous” image being blamed for the rise.
Young adults are increasingly requiring treatment for addiction to cocaine, often after developing a habit in their teens or twenties.
Last year 745 under-18s in England sought help from the National Treatment Agency after abusing the Class A drug, up from 453 in 2005-06.
Among those reporting addictions last year was a small group of very young children, including at least 15 children who were under 12, the latest figures show. Fourteen children aged 12 to 14 and 169 children aged between 14 and 16 also needed help to stop using cocaine, although fewer teenagers were seeking treatment for crack and heroin dependencies.
Experts said that children who started to use Class A drugs so young were likely to be using them as a “coping mechanism” to hide other problems, copying parents or other family members who were already abusing the substances.
Overall, nearly 24,053 under 18s needed addiction treatment for misusing illegal drugs and alcohol last year, 150 more than the total three years ago.
The number of individuals treated for cannabis was 12,642 and alcohol 8,799, accounting for almost nine out of 10 of all young people receiving support last year.
Last year the agency treated 657 crack and heroin users who were under 18, down from 1,081 in 2005-06.
Three quarters of young people treated had psychosocial therapies such as counselling, but others required support for the breakdown of family relationships, poor school attendance or emotional and physical harms.
Harry Shapiro, director of communications at the charity Drugscope, said that a shift in use away from heroin and crack towards cocaine reflected a general trend among all age groups.
“If young people are in a particularly risky or dysfunctional environment, alcohol or cannabis abuse is going to be more likely, and that makes them more likely to try other drugs.
“Cannabis has gone down since 2002, the general trends might be flat or dipping, but there is a minority of young people trying drugs as a coping mechanism.
“If you are in an environment where the house is used as a dealing hub or there are users regularly coming round to score, or if they come into contact with Class A substances through family members who are using them, then clearly that is an issue.
“Although they are coming forward for treatment, it’s likely that their drug use is symptomatic of other problems that are going on at home or school.
“I don’t think it’s a question of children and teenagers hanging round street corners, buying off dealers, but that could be their future if they don’t get treatment.”
Figures published this month show that the number of people under 35 entering treatment for cocaine addiction has increased by 75 per cent among men and 60 per cent for women in the past four years. The average age to start using the drug was 21.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman, said: “There is a real problem with young people receiving mixed messages because of the alleged glamour associated with drugs such as cocaine.
“We need to get the message across about the dangers of experimenting with a massively addictive drug such as cocaine.
“The Government has been obsessed with trying to look tough on drugs while slashing funding for information services and refusing to listen to scientific opinion. Ministers must do a lot more to make people aware of the serious damage that drug use can do to your long-term health.”
Rosanna O’Connor, director of delivery at the NTA, said that the latest figures indicated that the heroin “epidemic” had peaked.
She said: “Most young people receiving substance misuse interventions cannot be described as addicts in the same way as adults in cocaine addiction treatment programs.
“Addiction is normally the result of regular, consistent use of substances over time; most under-18s who have problems have not pursued drug-taking long enough to result in dependency.”
John Mallalieu, of the charity Turning Point, said that there was no conclusive answer as to why fewer young people were receiving crack or heroin addiction treatment, “but it seems they may now be more aware of the potential consequences of using these drugs than previous generations were”.
He added: “The fact that more young people are drinking tells us that similar cultural messages for alcohol are not sinking in. In 2008 heroin was responsible for around 900 deaths, whereas alcohol was attributed to nearly 8,500.
“Quite simply, greater resource is needed to ensure that England’s next generation of drinkers are taught of the dangers of alcohol, and change their behaviour before it is too late.”