Children as young as eight years old in Northern Ireland are being treated for alcohol and substance abuse.
Young children are being treated for alcohol and substance abuse
Drink, cannabis and solvents are being peddled to primary school children who are regularly misuing them, a project coordinator told the BBC News Website.
The answer to dealing with this increasing problem, is never "a slap on the wrists," said Raymond McKimm.
He manages the Eastern Health Board's Lifematters project, and believes early intervention is vital.
"I am currently working with a child with an entrenched problem at 11 years of age that goes back three years," he said.
"Children regularly misuse cannabis, alcohol or solvents."
"Those who are peddling the substances don't discriminate in terms of age."
Lifematters began work five years ago, offering support and help to young people.
A pilot project offering children and young people in the Lisburn area new ways of thinking about their life choices and encouraging their self esteem, has helped significantly decrease alcohol and drug use, Mr McKimm said.
Last year, a team from the Eastern Health and Social Services Board decided that the age for intervention had to be lowered.
"When we went forward for our current round of funding, the Eastern Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team said to lower the age range to eight," Mr McKimm said.
Lifematters now runs programmes developed for 8-11 year olds; 12-14 year olds and 15-17 year olds.
Those who are misusing drink and drugs do not fall into any particular social category, Mr McKimm said.
The programme offered to small groups is not an educational programme nor is it preventative work, he said.
Instead, it looks at issues such as self esteem and the individual's sense of power or powerlessness.
In March, ASCERT (Action on Substances through Community Education and Related Training) in partnership with Opportunity Youth will hold a conference at which the findings of the Lifematters project will be discussed.
It is called "Why Wait?" because the organisers believe that stemming alcohol and drug abuse at an early age is preferable to dealing with adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who are faced with chronic problems.