Addaction - Scotland’s largest drug and alcohol charity - is seeing teenagers as young as 13 who have used cocaine.
Director in Scotland Andrew Horne warns that as the price of cocaine continues to fall, more teenagers and young people will have access to the drug. Addaction South Lanarkshire has now lowered the age threshold of its services from 14 to 13, so it can help teenagers coming forward for treatment.
Jacqueline Baker-Whyte, who leads the service in Hamilton, said: “We’ve had 13-year-olds attend our service for help with cocaine problems. It’s obviously a very small number of kids, but there are quite a few in the 15 plus age group. In general we’ve never seen so many people come to us for problems with cocaine. Part of the reason is price, but it’s also about supply. Young people in particular are using social media and the dark web to buy cocaine.”
In the past 18 months Addaction’s South Lanarkshire service has treated 62 people under 16 for drug and alcohol problems. The majority of clients aged 15 or older report regular personal cocaine use. The service has supported some clients under the age of 15 for cocaine.
Jacqueline went on: “In the past, cocaine was a drug for people with money. That’s no longer the case. It’s cheap, plentiful and easy to get. The ‘quality’ is usually poor and the side effects can be horrendous. The problem with young people using cocaine is that it’s an appalling drug for growing brains. It’s hard to think of a worse substance for mental health; that’s aside from the significant physical effects and the problems with dependency.”
Further north, in Argyll Bute, Addaction staff have noticed an increase in both availability and purity of cocaine. This means people can buy their usual batches in larger quantities, or instead buy a higher strength product for only slightly more than the going-rate.
In South Ayrshire, Addaction is seeing people as young as 17 coming into their service, citing cocaine use as their primary problem.
Staff at Addaction in Fife say they are seeing increased cocaine use in all age groups and are working with clients who are using cocaine in multiple ways (snorting, smoking, injecting).
Stephanie Keenan, who leads Addaction’s web chat service said: “I get a lot of people using our chat function to get support for cocaine use. I think it’s almost a social norm in some circles. But the impact on mental health is devastating. A lot of people don’t realise the effects it has on the ‘happy hormones’ in the brain.
“In Scotland as a whole, I’ve seen an increase in under-25s looking to access support via web chat, due to the impact cocaine is having on their wellbeing. Family and work often take a big hit. I also often get loved ones coming online who are at a loss about what to do. When cocaine use is seen as such a norm by those close to them, they simply don’t know how to address it.”
Addaction is advising parents to have open and honest conversations with their children about cocaine and substances in general. The charity has a guide for parents on its website. Addaction runs a free and confidential web chat service where people can seek help and support www.addaction.org.uk