Surge in young people going into private addiction clinics as poorer addicts 'pushed into gangs'

While well-off addicts can afford private treatment, poorer teenagers with mounting drug problems are being failed by public services, making them 'ripe for grooming', experts warn

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 07 December 2018 17:10
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The number of under-18s accessing public drug and alcohol addiction services has plummeted despite a rise in youth drug abuse, while the number of young people being admitted to private rehab services has soared
The number of under-18s accessing public drug and alcohol addiction services has plummeted despite a rise in youth drug abuse, while the number of young people being admitted to private rehab services has soared

The number of under-18s accessing public drug and alcohol addiction services has plummeted despite a rise in youth drug abuse, while the number of young people being admitted to private rehab services has soared.

Experts fear that a growing number of teenagers are being “pushed into gangs” as a rise in drug use among under-18s coupled with an ongoing decline in funding for free treatment services makes these young people “ripe for grooming”.

New government figures reveal the number of teenagers in public substance misuse services fell by 5 per cent last year, from 16,436 to 15,583, while the proportion of this under-18s who had used drugs increased from 10 per cent in 2014 to 15 per cent two years later.

Nearly a fifth of pupils say they had taken a drug in the last year, while separate data shows school exclusions for alcohol and drug use have increased substantially in recent years, up by 95 per cent since 2011.

Separate figures provided to The Independent meanwhile show that the number of under-21s being admitted to one of the UK’s leading rehab firms for substance-based addictions has surged by 186 per cent in the last three years, from 93 patients in 2015 to 266 this year.

UK Addiction Treatment (UKAT) runs six facilities in England and helps people funding treatment themselves, with costs starting at £10,000 for three months.

Eytan Alexander, founder of UKAT, said the surge in young people paying for drug and alcohol addiction treatment stems from their inability to access public services or to be taken seriously.

“We’re seeing more and more young adults checking into rehab simply because the systems available publicly are failing them," he said.

"These young people have had incredibly difficult starts to their lives and it is imperative that services are accessible and available to them in order to allow their lives to get back on track."

Spending on drug and alcohol support services across England has meanwhile been slashed over the past four years. Figures obtained by The Independent last year showed local councils have had to reduce budgets by tens of millions of pounds since 2013.

The decline in publicly funded addiction services has fuelled concern young people who cannot afford private rehab are going without help, which experts fear is pushing teenagers into gang exploitation.

Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in addiction at the University of York, said: “You’ve already crossed the line of using drugs and alcohol problematically, enough to get you excluded from school, so you can’t go to school. There are fewer drug treatment places available even if you wanted support.

“I’m sure some of them are inadvertently being pushed into gangs. They’ll find peer support there and a bit of identity and belonging. The people who use the system of county lines exploit these kind of kids. They’re ripe for grooming.

“Austerity is partly responsible for this. There have been cuts to young people’s drug treatment. These services used to go out and reach out to these kids and find them. Obviously that’s a bit more expensive and time intensive but it’s what kids need.”

The government figures show two-thirds of the young people accessing specialist substance misuse services were male. Forty-three per cent of females were aged 16 or over, compared to nearly half (49 per cent) of males.

One in 20 young people in treatment said they had experienced sexual exploitation, with the vast majority of victims teenage girls, with 13 per cent of all young females entering the service saying they had been sexually exploited.

The number of children aged under 14 in treatment increased from the previous year, from 1,342 in 2016/17 to 1,422 last year.

The drugs teenagers are using are also changing, with the number of children being treated for addiction to tranquilisers having doubled in a year to more than 300. The drug Xanax accounted for the sharpest rise - from eight children receiving treatment in 2016-17 to 53 in 2017-18.

There has also been a sharp rise in the number of young people entering treatment for problems with ecstasy, with the figures having increased by 16 per cent from the previous year and almost doubled since 2014.

There was also an 18 per cent increase in young people in treatment for problems with crack cocaine over the same period, although the numbers were much lower (83 in 2016 to 2017 and 98 in 2017 to 2018).

Cannabis remained the most common drug by far which young people came to treatment for, with the 88 per cent of young people in specialist services saying they had a problem with it.

A government spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to protecting the most vulnerable against the harms of drug misuse. This data shows that young people are able to access NHS drug treatment quickly - with the vast majority remaining in treatment until their addiction is under control.

“We are also giving local authorities over £3bn this year to provide public health services, including drug support and treatment, and have been clear that prevention will be at the heart of our upcoming long-term plan for the NHS - backed by a funding settlement of an extra £20.5bn a year by 2023/4.”

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