Shock at youngsters hooked on cannabis

DRUGS charities have claimed that more than 1,000 children in Suffolk are currently using cannabis.

DRUGS charities have claimed that more than 1,000 children in Suffolk are currently using cannabis.

Their warning came as the Governmment revealed that police seizures of the drug had trebled in the county in four years.

But Chip Somers, head of the Bury St Edmunds-based substance abuse charity focus12, said the seizure figures were “the tip of the iceberg” and showed only a tiny fraction of a wider problem.

Home Office figures revealed there were 1,181 seizures of cannabis in the county in 2005 - compared to 420 in 2001.

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But Mr Somers said: “There are many more users of cannabis in Suffolk than that. There's probably 1,000 (users) aged under 16 in Suffolk.

“The rise (in the figures) suggests there is a better way of recording cannabis seizures as well as indicating more people are taking the drug now.

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“There is more cannabis around, it is easier to get hold of and the price on the street is dropping - it is cheaper now than it was in 1970s. Drugs are becoming more readily available and cheaper here just like the rest of the UK.”

Mr Somers said he had not found that the classification of cannabis had any bearing on use of the drug and attitudes to it.

Brian Tobin, of the Ipswich-based Iceni Project, which offers treatment to drug addicts, said he had no doubt the problem was more widespread than the seizure figures suggested.

He said: “I am not surprised by this increase. In the period 2004-5 we had 11,000 referrals or presentations for cannabis abuse and between 2006-7 we had 16,500.

“We have never seen such an increase but it is too early to say whether it is connected to the classification of cannabis.

“The vast majority of users don't come to harm but I have seen people here whose lives have been devastated by the drug.”

Richard Spring, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, who unearthed the Home Office figures, said he blamed the Government's downgrading of cannabis classification from B to C for the soaring figures.

“These figures are further proof that the government was wrong to downgrade cannabis,” he said.

“I support the recent decision to belatedly reclassify cannabis as a class B drug.

“But for many it will be too late. Thousands of young people will have become addicted to cannabis unnecessarily, and in due course will end up on hard drugs or in hospital.”

Detective Chief Inspector David Skevington, of Suffolk police, said: “While overall crime is down, latest figures for 2007-8 show an increase of 5.8% in the overall number of drug offences being recorded. This increase reflects the hard work, pro-active and robust approach to drug enforcement by the Constabulary.”

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