Children Sent To Drugs Specialists
Children as young as four are among hundreds of youngsters being referred to specialist drug and alcohol treatment services in Scotland.
Charities have called for improved drugs education in schools as an investigation revealed primary school children are being flagged as at risk of becoming addicts.
Treatment experts said the most common reason for children to come into contact with drugs and alcohol is through their parents and preventative work is key to heading off misuse among youngsters.
The Government defended the old and new curriculum, adding that all pupils should be taught about how drugs and other substances can be harmful to the body.
Using freedom of information laws, the Press Association approached councils across Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and found children as young as four had been referred by education and children's services to alcohol and drug specialists in South Ayrshire.
Elsewhere, eight-year-olds had been referred to services in East Ayrshire and Waltham Forest, while nine-year-olds had been referred in Herefordshire, Liverpool, Oxfordshire, Rutland, the Scottish Borders and West Berkshire.
Authorities in Bury, Calderdale, Halton, Hull, Monmouthshire and Rochdale had seen 10-year-olds referred.
Andrew Brown, director of programmes at charity Mentor UK, which works to protect children from drug and alcohol misuse, said he was shocked at the findings of the Press Association investigation.
Mr Brown, a member of the Supervisory Board of the European Society for Prevention Research, said: "We think it is vital that alcohol and drug education improve. Our own survey of teachers suggests that at the moment delivery is inconsistent, and that the norm is to timetable only one or two sessions a year.
"This may sound sufficient, but evidence would suggest that longer programmes that systematically build skills and values are much more likely to prevent young people from coming to harm than one-off lessons.''
A referral can mean the child is vulnerable to drug and alcohol misuse through exposure from a parent or other relative, as was the case with the four year old in South Ayrshire, or could have started abusing substances themselves.
Some 366 children aged 12 or under were referred for treatment in 2012/13 in England, according to the most recent figures from Public Health England, compared with 433 in 2011/12.
More than half of under-13s - 59% - received treatment for cannabis misuse, while a third were treated for alcohol misuse. A small number abused solvents.
Children are most commonly referred for treatment by education providers or youth offending teams.
::The Press Association contacted local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and requested the youngest age of children to be referred by education and children's services to specialist alcohol and drug treatment services in the years 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14 so far. A total of 140 authorities replied with complete information. No authorities from Northern Ireland provided information requested.