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Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 01:36 GMT 02:36 UK


Drink and drugs linked to child injuries

Children who suffer severe injuries are not routinely screened for drugs and alcohol

Children who have acute injuries should be routinely screened for alcohol and drug use, say US researchers.

Adults in the US are regularly tested for alcohol and drugs as there is thought to be a strong link between injury and abuse.

They may then be offered counselling and support.

In the UK, neither adult nor children trauma patients are routinely screened for alcohol and drugs.


Writing in the journal Injury Prevention, the researchers, led by Dr Guohai Li of John Hopkins University in Baltimore, said they wanted to test whether there was a correlation between children with acute injuries and substance abuse.

[ image: Cannabis and alcohol are the most used substances by children with severe injuries]
Cannabis and alcohol are the most used substances by children with severe injuries
They studied 1,300 children aged 10 to 14 who had been admitted to hospital between 1990 and 1995 with a severe injury and who had been screened for drug and alcohol use.

Almost one in 10 of the children tested positive. The most common drugs were marijuana and alcohol, followed by cocaine.

Children who suffered an injury at night, had inflicted injuries on themselves, were the victim of a violent attack or who had a pre-existing mental health problem were three times more likely than others to test positive.

Younger children were less likely to abuse alcohol than older teenagers, but those who did had similar concentrations of alcohol in their bloodstreams as people aged 16 to 20.

The researchers say these patients are "at great risk for becoming chronic alcohol abusers and for being injured again".

They say injury presents "a unique opportunity to initiate intervention for substance abuse".

They add that clinical trials on adults suggest even brief counselling can reduce alcohol intake by more than 40% in primary care settings and in hospitals.

They think that the same may be true of children, but admit research is very scarce in this area.

They believe that ethical issues and a reluctance on the part of medical staff to address behavioural and psychological problems may be stopping in-depth studies and call for the issue to be made a high priority.

In the UK

The UK has one of the worst records on drug and alcohol abuse among children in Europe.

In England, the number of 11 to 15-year-olds who drink has risen by more than a third since 1990, according to charity Alcohol Concern.

The amount they drink has doubled, it says. They are estimated to be downing the equivalent of nearly three million pints of alcohol a week.

And drug abuse among children is also rising. Young people in the UK are reported to be taking up to five times more illegal drugs than their European counterparts - particularly amphetamines and ecstasy.

The Standing Conference on Drug Abuse says use of illegal drugs has increased eight-fold among 15-year-olds in the last 10 years and five-fold among 12-year-olds.

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