CHILDREN as young as 12 years of age are abusing drugs and by the time they reach 14 many are addicted to heroin, a study of teenagers in the Dublin region has found.
Of the 86 young people studied, most were found to have left formal school at an early age and only one teenager had completed secondary education.
The shocking findings of the study, published in this month’s Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, looked at young people under the age of 19 years who were assessed at the Young Persons Programme (YPP).
The programme is located within the Drug Treatment Centre Board (DTCB) in Dublin, the largest and longest-established addiction centre in Ireland.
While internationally the use of heroin by teenagers is recognised as a growing problem, the study found that Ireland, and Dublin in particular, has a high prevalence of young heroin users in comparison with other European countries.
Of the 86 young people studied, the average age was just 16 years old and 46% of these were female.
Only 26% came from an intact family setting, while 27% had been in care at some point in their lives.
Alarmingly, the average age for the first use of heroin was just 14 years old, while for many other illegal drugs it was 12 years old.
Of those who had a recorded reason for leaving school, 13% transferred to alternative youth education and training schemes, 14% were expelled, while 50% simply dropped out. A further 57% said they had never worked after leaving school.
The report found that early school leaving was a common trend among young drug users with 49% of those studied having first tried heroin after leaving the education system.
Such a figure pointed to a “missed opportunity to intervene before some of these early school leavers progressed to heroin”, the study found.
Mental illness was also at the core of many young peoples’ drug use, with 52% saying they had previously seen a psychiatrist.
Boys were more likely to leave school early, have a substance-abusing sibling and to have a past conviction, while girls were more likely to have a partner and taken a deliberate overdose.
Head of operations at Merchants Quay Ireland Dermot Kavanagh said the findings were “of concern” and said that early intervention was critical in preventing drug addiction.
“Intervening as early as possible is very important. People who fall out of school early have nobody to keep a view on how they are getting on. That’s where youth outreach programmes and social services are so important in playing a role.”
Mr Kavanagh said that despite the boom years, the numbers attending Merchants Quay, which works with drug users and homeless people, were steadily increasing
“Heroin remains a major issue in Dublin and the numbers coming to us have steadily increased. We are a very rich country but we are very unequal. If you walk five minutes in either direction from Merchants Quay you have poverty the same as it was in the 1980’s with second and third-generation drug users,” he said.
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