Page last updated at 00:52 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 01:52 UK

Youth drug treatment hits record

woman smoking cannabis
Youngsters are smoking stronger varieties of cannabis than previously

A record number of young people in England sought treatment for drug or alcohol problems in 2007/8, according to figures obtained by the BBC.

More than 50,000 people aged under 25 went to counsellors for help - a 12% rise in two years - the National Treatment Agency figures reveal.

Some 44% more youths had problems with drugs like cannabis and cocaine, but heroin and crack addiction was down.

The NTA suggested the increase was down to drug services being more available.

The figures were obtained as part of an investigation by Radio 1 Newbeat.

Prof Howard Parker, from Manchester University, who has been studying patterns of drug use, said: "We've watched the number of units of alcohol double for those who are drinking.

"We've watched the rate of cocaine use increase right through for eight or nine years."

There is more of a focus on cannabis, alcohol and cocaine powder use
National Treatment Agency

He added that while overall cannabis use was down, serious users had been smoking the more potent skunk variety which has been linked to psychological problems.

The number treated for heroin and crack use in 2007/8 was down 19% to 18,597.

Prof Parker said problems were more likely to be caused by a cocktail of party drugs, combined with alcohol.

Of the more than 50,000 seeking help, some 31,401 under-25s were treated for use of alcohol, cannabis, cocaine or ecstasy, nearly 10,000 more than two years previously.

Prof Parker said: "Alcohol is cheaper and more available, cannabis is far stronger, cocaine is half the price it used to be and you can get half a dozen ecstasy tablets for £10.

"Put those three together and you've got just as serious a problem for health, family life and society as heroin."

Some drugs workers say that while young people are getting help, many adult treatment centres still focus on heroin and suggest services will need to shift focus to reflect this.

The National Treatment Agency, part of the NHS, said the fact more young people were getting help did not necessarily mean record numbers were abusing drugs.

Spokesman Tom Aldridge said: "[The increase is] more to do with drug services being more available and increased investment.

"But what is clear is that there is more of a focus on cannabis, alcohol and cocaine powder use, and it's a very small minority that are using crack cocaine and opiates."

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