Help needed for pre-teen addicts only 10 years old as young

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The Independent Online
A LEADING addiction expert warned of the heroin "disaster" hitting Britain unless greater priority was given to drug treatment programmes.

Dr Amal Beaini, a consultant psychiatrist, appealed to the Government to pour more resources into effective ways of weaning people off heroin.

Dr Beaini, a former NHS consultant who runs a group of detoxification clinics, said he was shocked by a Home Office report which said Britain could be on the brink of a new heroin epidemic involving children as young as 10.

Most of the new heroin users were aged 18 to 35, but a significant number were 14 to 16-year-olds. In some areas, children as young as 10 had been trying the class A drug.

The report added that heroin use was spreading out of the inner cities across the country because of cheap and easily available supplies, with young people both smoking the drug and injecting it.

Dr Beaini said: "This is a horrifying new trend. Many of these youngsters are fooled into thinking heroin is just another recreational drug, but it's not. With heroin it's impossible just to experiment and people who do try it can be hooked after six weeks.

"We cannot stand by and watch this tragedy unfold. A co-ordinated approach is needed, and it must include publicly funded detoxification programmes that work. I would like to see the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Royal College of Psychiatrists working together in a joint venture to prevent this disaster."

Where detoxification programmes are publicly funded they usually rely on methods of switching addicts to the heroin substitute methadone.

But many patients cannot tolerate the withdrawal symptoms and drop out.

Dr Beaini has developed a non-methadone programme, called Detox 5, at three clinics in Yorkshire and London which is said to avoid most of the "cold turkey" symptoms.

Patients are given medication to tackle physical withdrawal symptoms such as muscle cramps and diarrhoea while sedated. Then a non-addictive opiate-blocking drug, naltrexone, is used to drive out the remaining heroin. After five days, 99 per cent of patients leave the clinic with their bodies clean of opiates, Dr Beaini says. Usually, however, the pounds 2,300 treatment has to be paid for privately.

Roger Howard, chief executive of the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse, a charity which represents drug agencies, said: "We know that on average people are having to wait 10 to 14 weeks to get access to treatment programmes, and various parts of the country have `hot spots'. Generally most people would say the level of resources in the NHS and also through community care have been woefully inadequate."

Mr Howard said there were signs that the Government was beginning to realise the extent of the problem. The Comprehensive Spending Review had promised an extra pounds 188m for tackling drug misuse over a three-year period, part of which would go to treatment programmes. But he warned: "It's not before time and long overdue, but it will probably be insufficient."