Heroin use among young people has dropped significantly over the last couple of years, statistics from Shetland’s community alcohol and drugs service have shown.
However a warning is being made that stimulant drugs, including legal substances, have largely taken the place of the previously favoured class A substance.
In the first of a series of stories on the impact of drug abuse across Shetland, CADSS general manager Gill Hession warns so-called “legal highs”, typically given such names as Annihilation, K2 or Mary Joy Pink, can still pose major problems for drug users.
But legal highs are not the whole story. Ms Hession says heroin still has a grip on some people’s lives, as evidenced by a major suspected drugs haul recently carried out by police.
But speaking about heroin she insisted signs were good for the future.
Figures in the latest CADSS annual report show a reduction in the number of young people seeking support around their own problem drug use.
During the 2011-2012 administrative year 58 folk aged between 18 and 24 sought support from the drug and alcohol service. Of those, 17 used heroin – down from 33 heroin users in the previous year, when 67 young adults were helped for their drug misuse.
CADSS worked with four heroin users new to the service who were under 25, representing a “big decrease” in new heroin users accessing services.
“In recent years we had a year-on-year increase in heroin use and heroin users, and alongside that we had a year-on-year increase in young people using heroin – to the point where three years ago 50 per cent of all the new clients that came to CADSS were aged between 18 and 24,” said Ms Hession.
“But over the last two years, we’ve seen a significant decrease in young people using heroin.
“That’s got to be a really good thing.”
Ms Hession said fewer young people using heroin would lead to fewer people getting into difficulty with the drug later in life. That, in turn, should result in a drop in demand.
Historically, demand rose when pushers convinced “naive” drug users that heroin was safe because it was not addictive and was more difficult for sniffer dogs to detect. Ms Hession said that particular tactic was used as a “ploy” to get younger people hooked on the drug.
She is “delighted” the table is turning.
Annual surveys also show there was “never any heroin” in schools.
“It’s not Armageddon here,” she said, “Elsewhere you would see children using heroin, but we don’t have that here.
“We are particularly delighted that more young people are turning away from heroin use. But let’s not be naive and think we’ve had some sort of heroin epidemic, and now it’s over.
In an interview for this week’s Shetland Times Ms Hession warned the service was seeing an increase in the number of young people taking legal highs and using cocaine as a party drug. More in this week’s paper.