Andrew Horne on why Addaction is hearing from younger and younger cocaine users and how charities need to use innovative ways to reach them
Drug use in Scotland is changing. There has been a significant shift away from heroin among young people to a much wider range of drugs including cocaine, cannabis (and synthetic derivatives) and ecstasy.
At the moment heroin is seen to be very unfashionable and it is very rare for us to see young heroin users in any of our services. It would not appear to fit with an image conscious social media savvy younger generation. Instead, Addaction’s young peoples' services are seeing increasing numbers of people using a range of drugs including cocaine.
In the past 18 months Addaction’s South Lanarkshire service, for example, has treated 62 youngsters under 16 for drug and alcohol problems. The majority of clients aged 15 or older report regular personal cocaine use but the service has supported younger teenager. In fact, it has recently reduced the age limit to access its services from 14 to 13.
The reason for this is drugs are easy to get and increasingly cheap. The recent Global Drug Survey ran a headline that drugs were delivered quicker than a pizza in Scotland. That about sums it up and reflects why our web chat service facilitates daily conversations with worried young people and concerned parents.
What alarms us at Addaction is the lack of young peoples' drug and alcohol services across the country. It really is a postcode lottery. Some areas like Lanarkshire have committed resources to early intervention in the realisation that if we can help young people before their problems get really out of hand, then this will save not just money but personal and family heartbreak in the future. However this is an exception rather than a rule.
We also need to think differently about how we work with young people. Traditional walk-in services will only work for some. We know some young people are accessing their drugs via the web, so it seems likely that they will access help the same way.
We opened our web chat a year ago and have had over 9,000 conversations with people across the UK and beyond. New problems need to be met with new solutions. We need to take a test and change approach, use social media to target young people at risk, and provide immediate, uncomplicated responses that are free and confidential.
At Addaction we are constantly trying new approaches to deliver services that are age appropriate. Our message, if you're struggling yourself or worried about someone, is to reach out to us for help.
Addaction is the largest charity provider of drug and alcohol services in Scotland. We have a range of service across the country including web chat, direct access, harm reduction, young people and recovery services. We are open to all, including family and friends.
Andrew Horne is director of Addaction Scotland