Thousands of children seeking treatment for addiction

  • Gabrielle Nash: ITV News Health and Science Producer

Thousands of children in England are seeking treatment for drug addiction, according to the latest figures.

The data from NHS Digital shows that 24% of school pupils took drugs in 2016, up from just 15% in 2014.

The research shows the chances of children taking drugs only increases with age, with 11% of 11-year-olds having used them compared to 37% of 15-year-olds.

A quarter of those managed to buy the drugs, most likely cannabis, from a drug dealer but many were able to access them at school.

In 2016 research by UKAT (UK's Addiction Treatment Services) found that councils in England slashed budgets for drug and alcohol treatment and prevention by 15% - that amounted to over £100 million less a year on services.

The founder of UKAT, Eytan Alexander, said: "The fall-out from the NHS figures - by way of potential child drug addicts - hasn't completely started to unfold.

"We believe that social media is being exploited by drug dealers as an 'acceptable' outlet for obtaining drugs, and because access to drugs is far easier, this will ultimately lead to a rise in experimental use, which will later on down the link lead to addiction."

The charity Transform believes the figures show the government's drug strategy has failed and wants to see it pushing for more control of the market.

In a statement, the charity said: "Far from protecting children, it is endangering them.

"We need to take drug supply out of the hands of organised criminals and get the trade legally controlled and regulated by doctors, pharmacists and licensed retailers.

"Countries across the world - including Uruguay, the US, and Canada are taking control of the cannabis market by legalising and regulating it - we need to learn the lessons from these successes and move away from our failed drug war."

In a response to the NHS Digital figures, Public Health England said:"It’s concerning to see a rise in young people’s use of drugs. The evidence tells us that scare tactics don’t work.

"What does work is building resilience among young people, giving them the skills and confidence to not take risks and recover from any setbacks."