CHILDREN under four years old have been treated in Scottish hospitals for alcohol and drug misuse, new figures have revealed.
More than 3,300 under-18s received hospital treatment for drink and drugs during the last two years, with doctors treating more than 50 patients under four years old last year alone.
It come after proposed government funding for drug and alcohol services was slashed by £15 million earlier this year.
Critics called for better drug and alcohol education in schools to tackle the issue, which could have serious health consequences for young people.
Andrew Horne, director of Addaction Scotland, which supports people affected by alcohol and drugs, said the figures remained concerning despite the fact that alcohol and drug related use among Scottish children has fallen in recent years.
He said: “Although NPS (New Psychoactive Substances) are in the spotlight across the UK at present, alcohol is still Scotland’s biggest issue for young people.
“That’s why we’re keen on projects like Clearer Choices [a preventative educational service] to start the awareness early and tailor this to specific age groups, so that young people can make informed and positive lifestyle choices as they grow up.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman and Lothian MSP, Alex Cole-Hamilton, warned that the problem would only get worse if resources for treatment continued to be cut back.
Mr Cole Hamilton, who helped obtain the figures, said: “There is no silver bullet to tackling Scotland’s drink and drug problems but it is fair to say that cutting resources for drug and alcohol services will not help one bit, and could leave people stranded.
“For the government to pass the buck to health boards when so many other elements of the health service are under the cosh is just not good enough. They need to look at this again.
“With thousands of children over the last two years having received treatment after drug and alcohol misuse it is clear that education has a vital role to play in keeping children and families safe.”
Ministers have tried to tackle Scotland’s widespread problem with alcohol abuse by introducing minimum unit pricing, which was subject to a lengthy legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association.
There are around 670 alcohol-related hospital admissions a week, and 22 Scots die because of drinking every week.
Some shops were selling high-strength cider for just 18p per unit, allowing people to drink their weekly limit for around £2.50, according to recent research by Alcohol Focus Scotland.
Public health minister Aileen Campbell said: “Drug taking among young people is the lowest in a decade.
“The Health Secretary has made clear that Alcohol and Drug Partnership budgets must be maintained at the 2015/16 level. The Scottish Government has an ambitious programme for substance misuse education to ensure that all young people in Scotland have credible and accessible information and advice.”