Nearly 500 children have been treated in Lothian hospitals for drink and drug misuse over the past two years, new figures have revealed.
At least one child under four needed treatment last year, as did a handful of under-tens, according to figures obtained using freedom of information laws. It comes after proposed government funding earmarked for drug and alcohol services was slashed by £15 million.
Campaigners called for better drug and alcohol education in schools to tackle the problem, which could have serious health consequences for young people.
Andrew Horne, director of Addiction Scotland, which supports people affected by alcohol and drugs, said the figures remained concerning despite the fact that alcohol and drug use among Scottish children has fallen in recent years.
He said: “Although NPS [New Psychoactive Substances, or legal highs] are in the spotlight across the UK at present, alcohol is still Scotland’s biggest issue for young people.
“That’s why we’re keen on projects like Clearer Choices [a preventative educational service] to start the awareness early and tailor this to specific age groups, so that young people can make informed and positive lifestyle choices.”
Lib Dem health spokesman and Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton warned that the problem would only get worse if resources for treatment continued to be cut back.
Mr Cole-Hamilton, who helped obtain the figures, said: “There is no silver bullet to tackling Scotland’s drink and drug problems but it is fair to say that cutting resources for drug and alcohol services will not help one bit, and could leave people stranded. For the government to pass the buck to health boards when so many other elements of the health service are under the cosh is just not good enough. They need to look at this again.
“With thousands of children over the last two years having received treatment after drug and alcohol misuse it is clear that education has a vital role to play in keeping children and families safe.”
Dr Duncan McCormick, public health consultant at NHS Lothian, said: “Cases like this involving children are thankfully very rare.
“We have support services in place to meet the needs of children and young people presenting with alcohol and drug-related illness, including specially-trained staff based within the hospital and community.
“In addition, we work closely with schools, charities and alcohol and drug partnerships throughout Edinburgh and the Lothian’s to ensure children and young people are being given consistent information and advice about alcohol and drugs.”