, Crime correspondent
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
A proliferation of drugs has led to rising numbers of Suffolk drug addicts seeking treatment at a younger age, according to a leading counsellor.
Chip Somers said as an increasing variety of drugs have become more widely available the age of users has come down.
Mr Somers, founder of the Bury St Edmunds drug rehabilitation charity Focus 12, believes cocaine, heroin, and cannabis have become more attractive to take compared with 20 years ago. He also warned of the growing dangers of party drugs such as ketamine and substances known as legal highs which he claims need to be taken more seriously.
Mr Somers said: “Without doubt the presenting age of clients has been getting much younger, and rapidly so, in the last five or six years. The age of presenting for treatment has been gradually coming down from an average age of about 40-45 20 years ago, to 30-35 now and we are seeing a rapid increase in people in their 20s presenting themselves for treatment.
“I put that down to the enormous quantity of drugs being available for young people to get involved with.
“The variety of drugs is just in a different league to how it was 20 years ago when we were talking about heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and a bit of ‘acid’. You are now talking about a plethora of drugs constantly changing and being made available in clubs and on the street.
“I expect this trend to continue and I hope that services that have been put in place to reduce the harm of drugs will start to speak up more vocally about drugs like ketamine and legal highs which they, at this moment in time, have been profoundly slow in addressing.
“We have been aware about the damage through ketamine for about five years and yet none of the services in Suffolk that are in place have started to give out warnings of the damage it does to young people’s bladders.
“I think drug use has changed from being a twilight world to being much more common among young people. Twenty years ago drug use was carried out in some secrecy whereas now there is much more openness about the use of drugs. I don’t think it’s very good. It just makes the whole thing more attractive to young people in particular.”
Sharon Jarrett, Suffolk County Council’s head of young people’s health improvement, said: “We’re aware of concerns about substance misuse involving ketamine and other legal highs, which is why we are taking action to treat and support people of all ages.
“It’s essential that we raise awareness of the harm that these substances can cause. We have contacted all schools and the county’s GPs with information and advice about where to come for help. We also run a range of training on drug and alcohol misuse for all health professionals and practitioners who work with young people and adults, including specific sessions on ketamine.
“We are committed to treating everyone who presents with difficulties relating to substance misuse, including ketamine, cannabis and legal highs.”
Arrests of youths and children for drug offences in Suffolk have increased by nearly a third in just four years, according to police figures.
In 2010 there were 569 males and females aged 17 or under detained on suspicion of supplying or possessing drugs.
That number rose to 754 last year – the youngest was aged just 13.
Between 2012 and 2013 alone arrests went up by 17%.
The rise during the past 24 months is reflected, in part, by the increasing number of young drug dealers being sent to the county by organised crime gangs mainly based in London.
These groups have targeted Ipswich in particular, according to senior officers.
Chief Superintendent Jon Brighton, of Suffolk Constabulary, said: “We have seen an increase in younger drug dealers.
“With the operations we have run over the last year we have found younger people from outside of Suffolk being involved in the supply of drugs on the street, primarily in the Ipswich area, but we have seen them in other towns in Suffolk as well.
“We deal with them appropriately and contact the appropriate agencies if they are involved with those children or young people.
“We have got two strategic arms aimed at reducing the supply (of drugs) and reducing the demand.
“We are looking at trying to prevent and disrupt drugs coming in to the county and bring people to justice.
“We are also looking to reduce demand by focussing on users to try to assist them to break the cycle of drug abuse by working with our partner agencies.”
During the mid-to-late 1990s police noticed an increasing trend of dealers travelling to Suffolk from the streets of London.
Throughout the intervening years several operations have been carried out to arrest and deter them from coming to the county.
Many take over properties of drug addicts through either coercion or bribery ause their flats or houses as a base to deal from.
When police do eradicate one set of suppliers, the void is often filled quickly by other gangs and dealers.