Youngsters caught in drug abuse

PUBLISHED: 09:22 17 March 2010 | UPDATED: 17:05 30 June 2010

Almost 700 young people in Norfolk have been arrested for dealing or possessing drugs in the past four years - but police say pioneering projects in the county are helping slash the number of children spiralling into substance misuse.

Almost 700 young people in Norfolk have been arrested for dealing or possessing drugs in the past four years - but police say pioneering projects in the county are helping slash the number of children spiralling into substance misuse.

A Freedom Of Information request to Norfolk police has revealed that 693 under 18-year-olds were caught with drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and heroin between 2006 and 2009.

The statistics reveal that children as young as 12 have been arrested on suspicion of dealing heroin and ecstasy, but the number of young people caught was cut last year to 141, compared to 249 the year before.

Police credited the countywide partnership working, including the recently created Matthew Project under 18s service, with helping to steer young people away from drugs and keep the number of children arrested low in Norfolk.

However, the statistics do show some alarming examples. In 2007, a 12-year-old from the Norwich area was charged with dealing heroin, in 2006 a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old in Great Yarmouth were charged with dealing ecstasy and in 2008 a 12-year-old in Norwich was reprimanded for possessing cannabis.

Among those arrested in 2009 were a 12-year-old from South Norfolk and a 13-year-old from Breckland, who both received a reprimand for dealing cannabis.

A 14-year-old from South Norfolk was cautioned for possessing cocaine, while a 12-year-old from Great Yarmouth caught with cannabis was dealt with through the pioneering restorative justice scheme.

But police said those cases were exceptional and hailed the excellent work being done across the county to educate children about the dangers of drugs and to support those who needed help.

Colin Pearce, drug availability liaison officer for Norfolk police, said: “The number of young people in Norfolk found in possession of drugs is low.

“In 2009, one 14-year-old was dealt with for being in possession of cocaine. In 2008 and in 2009 one 12-year-old was reprimanded for offences of supplying cannabis.

“We are working with our partners to tackle drugs misuse and every effort is made to identify and bring drug dealers to justice.”

Police hailed the recently created Matthew Project under-18s service, a dedicated multi-agency team of drug and alcohol workers which help young people in Norfolk.

Workers from the project, which is based at Norwich's Open youth venue in Bank Plain and also operates in King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth, meet young people and provide lessons and assemblies focussed on drugs and alcohol in schools, while a number of Norfolk police officers support them through the Safer Schools Partnership.

Julian Bryant, director of the Matthew Project, said: “I wouldn't want us to rest on our laurels, but I think Norfolk is ahead of many other places in what we do.

“We target our work in three ways. The first is to target young people by going into schools, listening to their concerns and explaining in a very informal way the risks of drugs, not just in that people might die of an overdose, but that it can stop you getting jobs or travelling.

“The second is to work with the young people more likely to get involved with drugs, those excluded from school, in the criminal justice system or whose parents are dependent on drugs.

“We also get involved if youngsters are hanging around in parks or if there's been a lot of anti-social behaviour reports. We go to work with those young people, for instance as we did in Mulbarton last year when that was identified by the safer neighbourhood team.

“Finally we have the more clinical work we do. If they are using drugs such as heroin then we will do a health assessment. We have nurses on the team and also carry out mental health assessments.

“It's extremely rare, but occasionally we will also prescribe something to help keep them off drugs.”

Young people who want help from The Matthew Project can call the 24 hour helpline on 0800 970 4866 or 01603 774355.

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