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Community / MSP’s concern at above-average youth alcohol and other drug use figures

Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart.

SHETLAND MSP Beatrice Wishart says the Scottish Government should bolster education to “help break the cycle” after new figures on young local people using drink, drugs, vapes and tobacco were higher than the national average.

The figures were presented in Shetland’s Integrated Children’s Services Plan for 2022/23, which was discussed at a council meeting on Monday.

A health and wellbeing census showed that 15.5 per cent of respondents in secondary two and four said they had taken illegal drugs, ‘legal highs’, solvents or prescription drugs not prescribed to them – with the Scottish average being 9.6 per cent.

When it came to drinking alcohol once a week or more, 14.4 per cent of S2 and S4 respondents said they did, compared to 7.4 per cent in Scotland.

Rates for smoking tobacco and using vapes were also above average.

However the census did place Shetland higher than average when young people were asked about the statement ‘my life is just right’.

At Monday’s meeting Lerwick South councillor Neil Pearson said the figures were a “huge concern”.

“It’s clear that we as a community need to be doing a lot more to tackle these issues,” he said. “This is at every level, not just education.”

Shetland MSP Wishart also described the figures as “worrying”.

“Action to keep illegal drugs out of Shetland is important,” she told Shetland News.

“Dogs Against Drugs should be supported to help stem the accessibility of illegal drugs that are getting into the hands of our young people.

“There must also be action to stop products such as vapes being packaged to appeal to young people as some form of lifestyle accessory.

“Cigarettes are far less visible to buy than they were 30 years ago and this has helped reverse smoking trends.

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“Peer pressure can feel overwhelming when you are just starting to find your way in the world. The Scottish Government should be looking to bolster education to help break the cycle.”

The report also paid tribute to the work being undertaken by peer education organisation OPEN in researching drug and alcohol culture amongst young people win Shetland.

In response to the figures, a representative for OPEN said the statistics were “really interesting, and looks at what people are taking”.

“The Alcohol and Other Drugs Peer Research carried out provides insight into why young people are using alcohol and other drugs,” they added.

SIC children’s services director Helen Budge said work has started on having peer researchers going into schools.

She said she wanted to recognise what children’s services could do to appropriately inform young people around the “consequences and to give them information around any kind of usage”.

Budge also said the information in the report will help future planning.

She added that the report as a whole showed “how well the different partners work together in Shetland to make sure that we are doing everything we can to support our young folk”.

The report said that “being able to improve outcomes around these focus areas is reliant not only on specialist services but on the day-to-day interactions of children, young people and families being effective at identifying, responding and supporting to their specific needs”.

It highlighted how a range of training was offered in 2022/23.

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