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Youth drug problems increase four-fold since 1997

LOUISE GRAY for The Scottsman
May 18, 2006

THE number of children with drug problems has gone up by 400 per cent since Labour came to power, new figures revealed yesterday.

In 2004-5 418 under-16 year-olds were referred to the Scottish drug misuse database (SDMD) compared with 106 in 1996-97.

The figures follow a case in which an 11-year-old girl collapsed in school from smoking heroin.

Experts said there is a growing problem among children and called for more specialised services.

However, the Executive claims the figures are due to improved reporting.

Hugh Henry, the deputy justice minister, revealed the number of patients or clients reporting to SDMD has risen every year since 1997 in a parliamentary question. In 2004-5 the local authority to report the most children was Glasgow with 88, followed by 46 in North Lanarkshire and 36 in the Highlands.

Neil McKeganey, professor of drug misuse research at the University of Glasgow,

said: "These figures are shocking and they underline the reason why we need in Scotland substance abuse services that are appropriate for children at a much earlier stage."

David Liddell, the director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, also argued for specialist drug services for children.

"There has been progress in services, but I think there is a need for a closer look to make sure each area has appropriate services for younger age groups," he said.

Margaret Mitchell, the justice spokeswoman for the Tories in Scotland, said the figures confirm the "breadth and severity of the problem".

The Executive has admitted drug use among children is a problem, but says work is ongoing to tackle it. A spokesman said the sudden increase is partly because of better reporting of problems and more services available to help young people.