Steady numbers of teenagers every week require hospital treatment for the effects of drink and drugs — with an increase in legal highs noted by medical staff, latest figures have revealed.
A total of 260 individual cases were reported of patients under the age of 18 who were seen from 2007 until June of this year, according to the Belfast Trust.
The majority of clients seen by the trust’s Drug and Alcohol Misuse Mental Health Service (DAMMHS) are considered substance abusers with “co-morbid mental ill-health” inclusive of alcohol and drugs.
These drugs include solvents, glue, prescribed and non-prescribed medications.
According to the statistics, the most common drug that is used is herbal cannabis.
And the body says that there has been an increase over the past five years in the number of young people using legal highs.
DAMMHS is a service for young people aged 18 and under.
While it couldn’t provide a concise breakdown of the numbers involved, it confirmed that there have been occasions in the past four years since the body has been operational when young people under the age of 15 have required treatment.
According to DAMMHS, the majority of patients are aged between 15 and 18.
In the last six months of 2007, 11 young people were treated for drink or drugs abuse.
In 2008, 46 were seen, 70 in 2009, 60 in 2010 and 50 in 2011.
From January until June of this year, the figure was 23.
No known drug or alcohol-related deaths of anyone under the age of 18 have occurred within the care of Belfast Trust in the past five years.
The figures were made available following a Freedom of Information request to the Belfast Trust — which incorporates the Royal, Mater, City, Musgrave Park and Knockbracken hospitals.
Most cities and many large towns throughout Northern Ireland have at least one ‘head shop’ where legal drugs are available.
Legal highs on offer in shops and online can mirror the effects of some banned substances.
Scientists, officials and police have been concerned for several years that these drugs are being sold despite health concerns.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) said that it had received reports of children as young as 14 using legal highs.
Earlier this month the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJINI) published a report calling for government commitment to tackle root causes of crime such as drug and alcohol abuse.
Acting Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan said: “The path to the youth justice system is a well-trodden one, yet we as a society seem incapable of helping some young people to move off it.”