Pubdate: Thu, 08 Nov 2007
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2007 New Zealand Herald
Author: Simon Collins
Bookmark: (Youth)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Addiction agencies are seeing primary school children smoking 
cannabis, despite a slight drop in adult use of the drug.

Rotorua counselling agency Te Utuhina Manaakitanga Trust said 
yesterday that children as young as 7 were getting help for cannabis addiction.

Clinical co-ordinator June Bythell said the agency was still seeing a 
steady increase in clients seeking help with cannabis and alcohol.

"We have a major problem with cannabis in our area. People are trying 
to make changes but it is a huge struggle for them," she said.

Other agencies in Auckland and Hamilton said they were also seeing 
more children starting to smoke cannabis in primary school.

Figures released this week showed that cannabis use by 15- to 
45-year-olds had dropped for the first time in many years - from 20.4 
per cent in 2003 to 17.9 per cent last year.

But New Zealand still has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in 
the developed world, second only to Canada in the last World Drug Report.

Dr Grant Christie, a child psychiatrist with the Auckland Community 
Alcohol and Drugs Service, said his agency commonly saw young people 
who had started smoking cannabis as early as 11.

He said the drug was usually given to children by their parents, a 
sibling or sometimes an older friend of the family.

"They are very dysfunctional families, they are not your typical 
everyday families. There is usually CYFS involvement, there are 
usually multiple agencies involved," he said.

Counties-Manukau District Health Board paediatrician Dr Peter Watson 
said he had never heard of any child being treated for an addiction 
as young as 7, but concerns commonly started at age 11 or 12.

Ted Wilson, leader of Waikato youth addiction service Whai Marama 
Youth Connex, said multiple drug use was common in Hamilton, mainly 
alcohol and marijuana.

"The young people normally start out about late primary age in an 
experimental stage - substances given to them by older friends or 
family," he said.

"So by the time they reach their early to mid teenage years they 
present with huge dependency issues, i.e. truancy from school, stood 
down from school for drug-related offences, criminal activity, 
fighting at school or arguing with parents."

Ms Bythell explained her Rotorua agency runs a pilot programme 
involving the whole family of people with addiction problems.

Dr Christie said frequent cannabis smoking at a young age put 
children at greater risk of developing serious mental disorders later.

"The best evidence is around the impact it has on development in 
terms of going to school and making friends, just normal young kids' 
behaviour," he said.

"The more you expose yourself to it, the more trouble you are 
exposing yourself to. A kid smoking one-off is not nearly the same 
risk as a kid who starts early and smokes heavily from that point on."
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