Sobering Indictment Of Teenage Drinking

Last weekend in the north west of England, father-of-three Garry Newlove was attacked and killed outside his home as he approached a group of youths. The callous nature of this murder and the circumstances surrounding it led local police chief Peter Fahy to call for the government to increase the legal drinking age from 18 to 21.

It is essential that we open up the debate on combating drink and drug abuse among our young people. There is a culture that currently exists and it simply must be tackled at its root cause. The media is often accused of scaremongering regarding our young people; however, substance abuse is an area that must be addressed urgently.

A report published this week by the Department of Health showed that the number of young people being treated for drug and alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland has more than trebled in the past two years. You cannot examine alcohol and drug addiction without considering their often devastating side-effects.

Without a doubt, substance abuse does drive some young people towards crime. The people at the centre of this mess are our future. They, themselves, should be allowed to look forward positively and diverted away from anti-social behaviour.

The cancer of drink and drug abuse among our young people can also lead to other distressing areas such as depression and self-harming, and can greatly increase the risk of suicide among this vulnerable group. Our local health and education ministers must consider creating a stronger joined-up approach to tackling substance abuse.

The Bamford Review on mental health must also be implemented as quickly as possible to improve services and give us better resources to combat associated problems. The health and education ministers should consider devising a more comprehensive strategy to combat the issue which also raises awareness of health and other risks.

The Department of Health’s report is even more worrying as it comes just weeks after another report which showed that children as young as eleven are taking harmful drugs such as cannabis.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Michael McGimpsey recently turned down funding for a substance abuse treatment unit for teenagers. He must surely examine this decision in light of the findings within the department’s report.

Harsher sentences for drug dealers should be strongly considered. Tougher penalties for pubs and off licences that sell alcohol to people under 18 may also have to be examined. If the supply route can be cut off then the problem can be curbed.

By tackling the drug and alcohol abuse problem and helping people move away from this distressing cycle, we can dramatically cut anti-social behaviour and crime. It’s time that the Executive targeted more resources at our young people who represent the future for us all.