Children as young as 10 have been treated for drug and drink abuse in Greater Manchester, according to new figures.  NHS officials from all over Britain were asked about the youngest patients they had treated for substance misuse.

Some 366 children aged 12 or under were referred for treatment in 2012/13 in England, according to the most recent figures from Public Health England.  Nearly 60 per cent of this number received treatment for cannabis misuse, while a third were treated for alcohol misuse, the remainder abused other substances, including solvents.  Case workers have also sounded an alarm over powerful ‘legal highs’ which they say are easily purchased online or from high street shops, with minimal checks.

Charity AddAction, which works across the north west, said the problem was often broken families, where mums and dads were already battling addiction.  Spokesman Eilliot Elam said: “These children are not normally addicts. You wouldn’t treat them as if they had an addiction to heroin. But the very fact that they can access drugs or alcohol is hugely worrying.  “In most cases, it’s likely to be children who are experimenting because they have access. But they will be the people we are seeing in 10 years’ time if they are not helped now.  “It has always been a problem, but the true extent is emerging as we get better reporting of the problems.”

The problems were usually picked up by teachers, social workers or GPs, but Mr Elam said family intervention was normally used in the vast majority of parents rather than medical treatment.  The most shocking case was in Scotland, where NHS bosses revealed how a four-year-old child in Ayrshire had been referred to specialists for substance misuse.

Earlier this month, one of the Government’s official drug advisers called for drugs education to be broadened under the shake-up of the national curriculum but the Department for Education said: “Teachers are also free to use their professional judgment to address any specific issues that meet the needs of pupils.”

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