12:57pm Tuesday 27th November 2012
By Anna Roberts
Children as young as three have overdosed on drugs in Brighton this year. Reporter Anna Roberts investigates the shocking figures which show that 1,200 youngsters have been treated in Sussex for drug and alcohol problems in the past five years. Some 80 youngsters under the age of ten have been treated for drug and alcohol problems at hospitals in Sussex in the past five years.
Patients have included drunken six years-olds, a seven-year-old boy who was high on a hallucinogen – the category of drugs which includes magic mushrooms and LSD – and two children under the age of three who overdosed on opiates, which includes morphine and heroin.
In total, almost 1,200 under-18s have been treated in hospitals in the county for abusing drugs or alcohol since 2007.
The figures emerged in a Freedom of Information to NHS trusts submitted by The Argus.
Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at Alcohol Concern, said the figures were “deeply worrying”.
At least 11 children under the age of ten – including a six-year-old boy in Brighton and a six-year-old girl in Eastbourne – had to be treated because they were drunk.
Another ten-year-old boy in Brighton had taken amphetamines.
In 2010, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals staff had to look after a one-year-old baby girl who was suffering from an alcohol overdose.
Other noticeable cases included two 15-year-old boys in Brighton who had been admitted to hospital on a bizarre and dangerous combination of plant food – methadrone, known as meow meow – cannabis, alcohol and ecstasy.
They had also taken crystal methadone, a very powerful form of speed, which is hugely addictive.
It is known to destroy users’ looks and rots their teeth.
A 17-year-old girl was also treated in Brighton after taking it.
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals staff treated significantly more girls than boys and many more youngsters than their equivalent trusts in East and West Sussex.
Over the past five years, 724 girls were treated compared to 459 boys.
Ms Robinson said she was particularly concerned that the number of girls being treated for alcohol was on the rise.
She said: “These figures add to national trends that the number of young girls going to hospital for alcohol related problems has overtaken boys.
“We would urge resources to be made available for specialist alcohol liaison nurses in A&E to help these young people coming into hospital.
“But in the long term, we need national action against the problem of cheap alcohol sold at pocket money prices, such as the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol of at least 50p per unit.”
A spokesman for East Sussex Healthcare – where a six-year-old girl was treated for alcohol in Eastbourne – said: “The issue of underage drinking still remains a concern and in particular the fact that the number of girls admitted to hospital outweighs the number of boys.
“We mustn’t forget that under-18s are still children, with developing bodies and low tolerance levels, so drinking to the point of needing hospital treatment is extremely dangerous.
“But it’s not just those young people who end up in hospital that we need to focus on – even drinking small amounts of alcohol is risky for children.
“Young people drinking to excess will lead to inevitable health harms in the future as well as wasting ambulance and police time.”
An NHS Sussex spokeswoman added: “These attendances – whether it is due to accident or personal choice – should be avoidable and we are working hard with our NHS and social care partners to address this.
“Education is vital if we are to reduce the number of young people needing urgent care as a result of alcohol and drugs.
“We are working with schools and community partners to further develop the information young people receive about alcohol and drugs.
For example we are piloting a theatre education programme in some schools to work with young people on the risks of alcohol and support them to make wise decisions.”
She said that the NHS was investing in more services to target drink and drug users.
Parents, she added, also have a huge influence on children’s attitude to alcohol.
She said: “Although it may not seem like it sometimes research has shown that young people would rather get advice on drinking from their mum and dad than anyone else.
“So we are asking parents across Sussex to take the opportunity to make sure their children know how to avoid the dangers of too much alcohol.
“It is important to recognise that the younger someone starts drinking, the greater the impact that alcohol will have on their health and well being in the future, in addition to the short term risks.
“Drinking regularly to excess means young people are more at risk of developing serious health problems, including liver disease and cancers as they get older.
Her views were echoed by Marolin Watson from drugs education charity Hope UK.
She said: “Hope UK is convinced that drug and alcohol education works, but cuts to statutory funding have increasingly made this a hit and miss affair.
“Young people need to know the potential short and long-term effects of drugs and alcohol on their developing brains and bodies if they are to avoid jeopardising their futures.”
Tragic teenagers who died through drinking
Alcohol has been the cause of teenage tragedy in Sussex.
In November 2010 16-year-old Megan Moore died after falling in front of a train – the level of alcohol in her blood was three times the legal limit.
An inquest in Worthing in 2010 was told the combination of high heels plus a high level of alcohol in Megan's system may have caused her to become unsteady on her feet.
She had been running beside the train, tapping on the window of a carriage, as it started to gain momentum.
Recording a verdict of accidental death, West Sussex coroner Penelope Schofield said the death of Megan, a media student at Chichester College who lived with her family in East Preston illustrated the consequences of young people consuming high levels of alcohol.
Ms Schofield said alcohol can make young people feel "invincible" and she expressed hope that other youngsters would learn lessons from the case.
In 2009 Hurstpierpoint College pupil Sam Griffiths was 16 when he died at Burgess Hill railway station.
He was electrocuted after running across in his boxer shorts as a New Year’s prank.
An inquest was told he was twice the legal drink drive limit.
Scott Turner, 16, was about one-and-a-half times the drink drive limit when he died after being hit on the M23 in July 2010.
His father, Andrew Turner, told an inquest in April 2011: “He didn't appear drunk to be honest, but he was merry.
“He wasn't falling over himself, but I did say to Scott, ‘You've had enough, leave it there.’
‘We are the third worst county for alcohol problems’
Brighton and Hove director of public health, Dr Tom Scanlon warned this weekend that alcohol remained the city’s biggest health risk.
He told The Argus: “Alcohol is and has been for many years a problem in Brighton and Hove.
“We are in the worst third of the country for virtually all of the standard alcohol indicators: binge drinking, hospital admissions and crime.
“Each week around 100 people are admitted to hospital as a result of alcohol – either as an acute event or more commonly the longer term impact, and an average of 66 people call an ambulance each week because of alcohol.
“Our levels of drinking in young people are higher and just about all these indicators, apart from alcohol related crime, are getting worse rather than better”.
But he also said that the rise of “legal highs” was of concern.
Dr Scanlon said: “We also have considerable concern about another group of legal drugs, the so-called ‘legal highs’.
“We don’t know a lot about these drugs but a lot of younger people are choosing to use them, sometimes with disastrous effects.
“So simple legalisation, while it might reduce a certain type of crime. It certainly won’t solve all our drug problems.
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