Page last updated at 02:39 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

More teenagers get drug treatment

woman smoking cannabis
Most under 18s were sought treatment to help them stop using cannabis

More teenagers are being treated for drug and alcohol problems than in previous years because it is now easier to access services, a new report says.

The National Treatment Agency says the numbers of young people in England abusing drugs is actually falling.

Four out of five young people treated in 2007-2008 were misusing cannabis or alcohol, it says.

The government said good quality education about drugs was vital, and that it was committed to providing it.

The NTA report, which analysed figures for 2007-2008, said 23,905 under-18s were helped to tackle drug and alcohol problems, up from 20,643 in 2006-2007.

A smaller proportion of people than in previous years sought treatment because they were using hard drugs.

The majority sought help to stop using cannabis or alcohol.

Just over half of those being treated last year - 12,021 - were treated for cannabis use, and 8,589 for alcohol.

Three quarters of those treated were 15 or over.

The NTA says fears that young people are more likely to be using drugs than in the past are unfounded, but that their devastating effects should never be underestimated.

'Positive picture'

Clare, a 17-year-old whose full name we have not used, said the treatment was incredibly hard, and involved cutting herself from everything she was used to - her boyfriend, friends - even family.

"I wanted to prove I wasn't this erratic, chaotic druggie," she said, "but that I was clever and talented and all the things I knew I was.

"But it's hard, living this way."

She was given help to find accomodation and to get back into college and she is now studying for A-levels.

Drugs poster
Children now learn from a young age about the harm drugs can do

Young people with drug or alcohol problems are more likely to receive counselling, perhaps in a family setting, residential treatment, and harm-reduction therapy.

Treatment focuses on tackling the underlying causes - such as low self-confidence.


NTA director of delivery Rosanna O' Connor said widening access to services was vital for the young people who needed help.

"They are vulnerable to being damaged by drugs and future dependence if they are not provided with relevant interventions early enough," she said.

An NHS information centre survey for 2007 suggested a steady downward trend since 2001 in the number of younger teenagers trying drugs and alcohol.

For example, 46% said they had not tried alcohol - up from 39% in 2001.

The National Treatment Agency was set up by the government in 2001 to increase the availability of treatment for young people.

Drug charities Adfam and Addaction contributed to the research and broadly welcomed its findings.

Vivienne Evans OBE, chief executive of Adfam, called them "encouraging".

Addiction to class A drugs is rare, according to the report, and prescribing substitutes rarer still.

Every local authority in England now has access to a specialist substance misuse service for young people, the NTA says.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls also said the evidence pointed towards fewer children using drugs and alcohol.

"We are committed to making sure young people receive good quality education about the risks of drugs, through statutory Personal Social Health Education at school and the Frank campaign," he said.

"At the same time we are providing young people with real alternatives through record investment in positive activities, at times when they want them."

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