Cheap alcohol widely available on supermarket shelves is “destroying” the lives of people in the isles.
Figures from the Community Alcohol and Drugs Services Shetland (CADSS) show a higher number of problem drinkers turned to the service in 2010/11 than illegal drug users.
But the amount of money the 105 new problem drinkers registered with CADSS spent to feed their habit was just £343,315.
By contrast, the 87 illegal drug addicts who turned to the service in the same period spent £1,706,000 between them on illegal substances.
CADSS manager Gill Hession told Lerwick Community Council on Monday night she was “gobsmacked” the spend on alcohol was not higher. A bill aimed at introducing minimum pricing on alcohol is currently going through the Scottish Parliament.
Ms Hession said: “There are people in Shetland whose lives are being destroyed by alcohol. It’s a very low amount compared to the amount of money being spent on drugs. It shows just how cheap alcohol is.”
The report shows the total amounts spent by new and existing problem drug users was between £4 million and £5 million.
However staff at CADSS believe the real figure to be £9 million to £10 million, given the anticipated numbers of drug users who do not seek help from CADSS.
Ms Hession added many clients were shocked by the amounts of money they were spending to sustain their drug abuse.
The news was not all bad, though. The figures showed the number of drug users turning to CADSS for help who were under 25 had dropped from 50 per cent in 2008/09 to 39 per cent in 2009/10 and to 29 per cent in the last financial year.
Similarly, latest surveys among school pupils in the isles showed almost half of S5 girls had not drunk at all in the last week.
The news, said Ms Hession, was encouraging – not least because alcohol was seen as the main “gateway drug” to illegal substances. For the first time in four years, nobody under 18 presented to CADSS for help with their heroin use in 2010/11. The year also saw a lot of high-profile seizures of the class A drug. While Ms Hession admitted some were turning to cannabis instead, she insisted the figures challenged the perception of young people continually drinking or taking drugs.
“If young people are drinking less and making wiser decisions and deciding not to use heroin the chances are the demand for heroin will reduce as well,” she said.
Discussion at one point in the town hall chamber turned to the ability among some people to hold down a job and live apparently normal lives while abusing drugs at the same time.
However Gussie Angus said he was aware of a “significant sub-culture” in Lerwick with people unable to play a full part in community life. He said it was difficult to make the message about drugs “stick” in education.
Meanwhile retired teacher and founder of the Global Classroom, Stewart Hay, warned the current financial austerity was putting children at risk by limiting the opportunities available to them.
“As a teacher, in every sense, you try to share experiences – which is basically what schools try to do,” he said.
“In the climate in which we are living, with the possibility of services being cut, I would sound a word of strong caution. One of the ways of ensuring young people have healthy lives is the possibility of lots of things to do.
“If cuts are yielded in the way that has been suggested we will see an increase in the kinds of things that worry all of us.
“The more engaged we are with our young people the less likely they are to drift into a life of continual difficulty.”
Michael Peterson challenged police sergeant Bruce Gray to channel resources which could be used for road traffic matters to target drug users instead.
Sergeant Gray said Northern Constabulary’s traffic department had made more drug seizures than any other.
“There is a saying now that not all drivers are criminals but almost all criminals are drivers,” he said.
The report before members showed CADSS worked with over 2,100 people during the last financial year.
Of those 249 were problem drug and/or alcohol users. There were 91 family members affected by the drug abuse by parents, siblings or children.
The agency worked with 1,200 under-18s. Contact with the teenagers was made through schools, youth clubs or other services such as SYIS or the Bridges Project.