Cannabis is the main problem drug for young people using specialist treatment services in England, figures published today show.
The National Treatment Agency’s first study of substance misuse among under-18s found that cannabis was the primary drug for more than half of young people, followed by alcohol.
Very few young people were treated for hard drugs – just 3% for heroin or cocaine and less than 1% for crack as the main drug.
The study also showed that the numbers of young people accessing specialist treatment services had risen from 17,001 in 2006-7 to 23,905 in 2007-8.
Paul Hayes, chief executive of the NTA, said the figures reflected an expansion in services rather than a rise in young people’s substance misuse. He said there was strong evidence to show that drug and alcohol misuse was falling, although it was “hard to be precise” as it was a hidden activity.
One-third of referrals to treatment services came from youth offending teams, the study also showed. The NTA said it planned to increase referrals from other agencies including looked-after children, schools and primary care.
Tom Aldridge, NTA lead on children and young people, said there was currently no information on how many looked-after children were referred to services, but estimated the number was less than young offenders.
He said the NTA would start collecting this information with children’s trusts and children’s commissioners.
Today’s study is the first on substance misuse among young people by the NTA, which took responsibility for children and young people’s services two years ago.