Children as young as eight seek help
In one of the valleys that fans out from Port Talbot, young people talk of favourite meeting points where drugs are available. Drug-dealing and car theft help to fund the habit.
Some villages have 50 or more drug-users, aged from early teens to mid-20s. One explained: "When I haven't got drugs my head goes completely. I have violent mood swings and put windows through and stuff."
Young people are frequently trying to cope with a difficult domestic life, and drugs offer an escape to a world of the user's own.
Ian Rees, manager of the Port Talbot Drugs Project, said: "I can recall reviewing cases we were dealing with, and of the women 60 per cent were victims of sexual abuse. Often the drugs are not the problem. They are the symptom of the problem."
He said 10 years ago he would never have believed the number of under-16s using the agency'sneedle exchange service.
Younger drug users are either unaware of the health risk or, more often, don't care. It takes a major event like the death of a friend or partner to force a conscious decision to kick the habit.
"Drugs are risky as hell," said one user, "You get into higher stages. I went down from 13 stone to seven stone. My mate died and I went to prison. We went mad for two years, taking anything upon anything."
Recent research by the project has found that drug use is rife in the Swansea, Neath and Afan valleys, and that these areas, unlike the major towns and cities, lack the support of the appropriate agencies. The vagaries of supply mean users are taking a range of drugs including heroin, amphetamines, cannabis, Temazepam, Valium, and LSD.
The drugs project concentrates on telling young people about the effects of the different drugs, the possible dangers and side effects. While many people use drugs recreationally without coming to serious harm there are an estimated 700 young people in the three valleys who have a problem.
Boredom is the main reason they take drugs, according to Darren James, a PhD student at the University of Wales, Swansea, who carried out the research for the Port Talbot project. He questioned 112 people who were taking drugs but not receiving help from doctors, drug agencies or social services.
Mr James believes that his findings are limited and underestimate the problem in the valleys because he was suspected of being a police informer and because drug users often failed to keep appointments.
The research did, however, give the drugs project the ammunition to win funding for three satellite agencies in the valleys and to secure the appointment of a valleys drugs worker. The new centres should be in place by the autumn.
Responses from drug users questioned revealed cases of people so desperate to inject that they regularly broke open syringe disposal canisters to use dirty needles and, if there was nothing else available, would inject whisky to get high.