CHILDREN as young as 11 are being treated in Scottish hospitals for addiction to smoking, drugs and alcohol, new NHS figures have revealed.
Scottish health boards have forked out millions of pounds in the past five years to prevent and treat smoking, drug- taking and alcohol abuse in young people, and the costs are rising.
‘We don’t have a countrywide approach to prevention’
More than 1,400 children under 16 have received hospital treatment since 2009 for tobacco or drug abuse.
One health board – NHS Lanarkshire – is even sending health professionals into nurseries in an attempt to teach children as young as three about the dangers of a nicotine addiction.
A snapshot of figures from Scottish health boards reveals that NHS Forth Valley has treated 331 children as young as 12 who needed treatment due to smoking in the past five years.
117 children aged under 16 have been treated for a smoking addiction in NHS Borders since 2009, and costs to prevent and treat youth addiction have risen from £40,000 in 2011 to £100,000 in 2013/14.
In NHS Lothian more than 69 children – as young as 11 – have received hospital treatment for smoking or drug addiction since 2009.
The health board forked out more than £82,000 last year for smoking and adolescent substance misuse in young people – up from £31,000 in 2011/12.
In NHS Borders 117 under- 16s have been seen for smoking treatment since 2009.
The board spent more than £340,000 on drug and alcohol services for young people over the same period.
Last night health experts warned that becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol at a young age could lead to life-long health problems.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland, said: “Around two-thirds of smokers say they started under the age of 18 and 40 per cent under 16. Smoking amongst children is a real concern because their bodies are growing and developing and damage is magnified.
“Tobacco can for some be quickly addictive – as little as eight weeks – and then hard to quit.
“Part of the problem is we don’t have good evidence for what helps young people to quit, but listening and engaging with them is vital. For some, nicotine replacement therapy may be prescribed to help with addiction.
“Quitting at any age is beneficial and will bring health improvements. For a majority of smokers who quit before age 30 most of the damage can be reversed.”
Andrew Horne, director of Addaction, which supports people affected by drugs and alcohol, said that though numbers of people with drug problems have lowered, Scotland had seen a “worrying” rise in young people addicted to alcohol.
He added: “What we don’t have unfortunately is a countrywide approach to prevention. There are hotspots of good practice but then we have areas where not much is going on. For at-risk young people, a short-term intensive intervention would be a good idea.”
NHS Lanarkshire said its smoking prevention programme cut across a “variety of settings including nurseries, schools, colleges and youth learning services”.
A spokesman added: “NHS Lanarkshire has a range of services to inform and support young people about the risks associated with tobacco, alcohol and drug use. The smoking prevalence among under-16s in Lanarkshire is the lowest since records began; however, we continue to promote services for those who smoke and want to quit.”
NHS Lothian’s smoking cessation includes supporting pregnant women under 17.
Prof Alison McCallum, director of public health at NHS Lothian, said: “We know that effective interventions exist to reduce the likelihood that young people will take up and continue to use tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
“We work in partnership with local councils and third sector organisations to ensure good quality drugs, alcohol and smoking services for prevention and treatment and ongoing support are provided.”
High price to pay: health board figures
» 59 children under 16 treated for drug or smoking abuse in five years.
» £1.5 million in three years on Youth Counselling Service that deals with drugs or alcohol abuse.
» 69 children under 16 treated for tobacco and drug abuse in five years.
» £895,000 in five years young people smoking cessation and substance misuse
NHS Ayrshire and Arran
» 197 under 16s admitted to hospital due to drugs or smoking in five years.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
» 24 children needed treatment for drug abuse (could not provide tobacco or acute hospital figures)
» £360,000 in four years for Youth Alcohol and Drug service
NHS Forth Valley
» 331 under 16s for smoking under the age of 16 (no drug figures)
» 117 under 16s seen for smoking treatment.
» More than £340,000 spent on drug and alcohol services in five years
NHS Dumfries and Galloway
» 48 under 18s for drug abuse
» More than £1 million in five years on smoking and drinking abuse in young people
» 19 under 16s for smoking and alcohol abuse in five years.
» 831 children seen in A & E departments due to exposure to drugs in five years.