Drug abuse among the young 'isn't falling'

Official statistics paint a picture of declining drug use among teenagers, but youth workers tell a different story

Tes Reporter

Drug abuse among young people in Scotland isn't falling, according to youth workers

Drug use among young people in Scotland may be higher than reported in national statistics, it has been suggested.

In a report from a study carried out by youth support charity Includem and the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ), youth workers say they believe there has not been a decline in the number of young people using illegal substances.

This is despite official statistics published four years ago outlining a fall in drug use among under-15s from 37 per cent to 19 per cent between 2002 and 2015.

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Last year, the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland rose to 1,187, the highest since records began in 1996. A rise of 24 per cent in the number of under-35s dying from drug misuse led to warnings that the risks to younger drug users were being neglected.

Drugs education

The youth workers who took part in the study, who are employed by Includem, say support for those using drugs needs to be tailored to meet individual needs and to get to the root cause of why an individual is using substances.

They also warned of the seriousness of "drug debts" that young people can get themselves into, which can start out by owing money to their peers.

Includem chief executive Martin Dorchester said staff at the charity are "well placed" to judge levels of misuse.

"Substance misuse continues to be a real issue for a significant number of young people we work with," he said.

"We are just not seeing the falling drug misuse rates within this group."

He added: "Our workers on the ground are well placed to judge true levels of misuse, and see the consequences of it every day.

"On the surface, these falling figures seem encouraging, but drill down to what is happening on the streets and our staff will tell a different story."

Mr Dorchester said that if Scotland was serious about reducing "these unacceptable rates of drug deaths" it needed to invest in early intervention preventative work with those groups of young people most at risk of serious drug misuse.

"The way young people view alcohol and drugs is constantly evolving, as are the types of substances available and how young people use them," he said.

"It's really important that we keep an eye on these trends and make sure our staff are as informed as possible so they can support young people as best they can.

"This type of study equips us with the knowledge to do this."

Recently, the quality of personal and social education in Scottish schools has come in for criticism. A report into the lessons found that pupils complained that the focus of classes was too often on substance misuse and the lessons were outdated. 

A Scottish government spokesman said: "While it is welcome that levels of illicit drug consumption among the general population – including young people – are falling, we will continue to work closely with relevant bodies, including charities, local Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, and Police Scotland to understand emerging trends.

"As set out in our refreshed alcohol and drug treatment strategy, we want to ensure all people who require effective treatment have access to it. We expect all relevant services to provide tailored support to young people who need it, helping to reduce problem substance use and its associated harms."

The spokesman added: "Young people need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to challenge and resist misinformation and pressure through social media.

"We are continuing to develop our online resources to ensure they provide accurate and relevant information around alcohol and drug use and how to access help."

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