No Reason to be Sanguine About Teenage Drug Use

This month, the National Treatment Agency published the staggering figure of nearly 25,000 young people under 18 getting “treatment” for their drugs and alcohol problems.[1] 10 years ago, the thought of so many young teenagers using drugs to this degree was unimaginable, writes Kathy Gyngell, chair of the Prisons and Addiction forum at the Centre for Policy Studies.
The sad fact is that, despite 10 years of a drug strategy purportedly designed to reduce use by young people, there are thousands of children beginning their lives so damaged by drugs that they need treatment. This is major social problem that can neither be denied nor brushed under the carpet. What teenagers do today determines the scale of the drugs problem tomorrow.
National school-age statistics show that a staggering 25% of UK children (aged 11–15) have tried drugs and that 10% of them use drugs regularly.[3] This is way higher than the European average. It is also likely that levels of teenage cannabis use are higher than the published statistics, as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recently acknowledged.
Hospital admissions reflect the rising strength of cannabis and that children are moving earlier to Class A drugs. With the UK cannabis market dominated by high-THC skunk – which, according to a former head of the Dutch Police Narcotics Division, should now count as a ‘hard drug’ – what we are witnessing is an earlier and disturbing shift to hard drug use.
When drugs services and drugs advisors have no more urgent need than to highlight “the problems faced by young people when they reach 18 and are no longer eligible for specialist services” and “to ease their transition to adult services”, the outlook is dire indeed.
The NTA’s tables reveal that 1,600 teenagers are receiving “treatment” for heroin, cocaine and crack addiction. They reveal that 29%, some 6,000 in all of those in treatment, receive‘harm reduction’ interventions – usually understood to be a euphemism for prescribing an opiate substitute like methadone. As Professor Neil McKeganey, a leading expert in drugs misuse, said: “The idea of starting someone under 18 on a methadone prescription with an implicit expectation that they may be on that drug for the next 10 or more years is appalling. We need services to think beyond the chemical”.[6]
The desperate fact though, is that there is still only one small dedicated residential rehabilitation centre [Middlegate Lodge] with statutory funding for no more than 12 children/teenagers at a time in the country.
Last year, Mike Trace, Chief Executive of the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners trust, spoke of the urgent need for residential treatment for young, under 18, addicts.[7] Young addicts, he said, were unlikely to get better within the environment they had grown up and that had fed their problems.
How much of the National Treatment Agency’s dedicated funding of £25 million is spent on this?
How many teenagers are emerging drug free from their encounters with services?
It is simply not enough for the NTA to tell us that the proportion of young people who “complete an intervention according to the goals set out in their care plans’ is 57%. Unless we know what the goals of their care plans are in the first place and what the aspirations are for the young people in question, it is a meaningless statement. As we already know from adult services, “completing treatment” can be a measure of virtually nothing.

Source: Addiction Today Jan.2009

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