Borders heading for ‘horrible time bomb’

Underage Drinking.
Underage Drinking.

FACED with evidence that alcohol consumption among 15 year olds in the Borders is higher than the national average and that there are an estimated 4,500 people in the region with alcohol problems members of Scottish Borders Council’s scrutiny committee have come to the unanimous conclusion that having a minimum price per unit for alcohol would at least be a start in dealing with the issue.

Last September when the Scottish Borders Council debated the pros and cons of the Scottish Government’s initiative to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, Borders councillors voted 14-11 against it. But in May this year there was unanimous agreement that the council should “send a powerful message to Parliament” to look at a minimum price for alcohol.

For police officers trying to deal with the anti-social behaviour that comes with drinking to excess the biggest problem they face now is house parties.

Chair of scrutiny, Councillor Donald Moffat, said after the meeting: “The police emphasised that it’s not licensed premises that are the problem for them but house parties.

“The police used to know where to go to stop trouble before it got out of hand when drinking was done mainly on licensed premises but now when house parties get out of control the police don’t know where they are going to be needed until things spiral out of control.”

The region’s Alcohol and Drug Partnership reported: “There has been a noticeable shift in drinking habits amongst young people over the last year, with an increasing number drinking within homes rather than in public.

“Several addresses have been identified as ‘party houses’ and are actively targeted by police and community wardens, in an attempt to deter and reduce behaviour.”

East Berwickshire councillor David Raw, who underwent a liver transplant in June this year after suffering serious health problems due to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, came face to face with people on the brink of death in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s transplant unit because of their alcohol addiction and he is determined to do all he can to try and reverse the attraction the region’s youngsters have to alcohol.

“It is very disturbing to see that Borders figures for the numbers of young people affected by drug use and alcohol problems are above the Scottish average. The Borders Alcohol & Drugs team led by Stella Everingham are doing a great job, but it is the duty of the council to give them unstinting support despite the current financial situation.

“If we don’t back them up, the Borders are heading for a horrible future time bomb.

“In terms of what the council can do, I want to look at whether there are additional facilities and funds we can find to tackle this. I do think it’s time the council did what it could to deal with this.”

Earlier this week a 40-year-old Borders man appeared in court and pleaded guilty to culpable and reckless conduct after admitting he bought a bottle of Jack Daniels whisky for a 14 year old boy who drank the whole bottle.

It was described as “one of the most serious cases of child intoxication seen by doctors” at the hospital and prompted Sheriff Kevin Drummond to issue a warning about the potential fatal consequences of such actions.

“The responsible community is trying to do something about this,” he said. “It is not killjoy stuff.

“There does not seem to be an understanding that young people can die from this kind of incident.”

Independent charity face2face, which is part funded by SBC and NHS Borders, helps 11-18 year olds with drug and alcohol problems and of the youngsters they have seen over the past year, 58 per cent have stopped using any alcohol/substances altogether, 31 per cent have reduced their consumption, eight per cent made no perceptible change and for three per cent their problems had got worse.

Alcohol is by far the biggest substance abuse by Borders youngsters - of the 217 referrals made to face2face in the region last year 85 per cent were alcohol related. And official figures show that spending money on services like face2face is cost effective.

“For every £1 spent on alcohol and drug treatment for young people a saving of between £4.66 and £8.38 is achieved across health, education and criminal justice services,” said Julie Murray, of the region’s Alcohol and Drug Partnership.

“One of the key challenges in education and prevention work is ensuring that young people are given consistent age-appropriate messages about substance misuse in ways that are most likely to have an impact.

“Information and advice are in themselves insufficient in shaping young people’s choices and behaviour. It is important therefore that awareness raising and education about substance misuse are viewed as one component in a wider strategy to engage young people in learning, to support positive respectful relationships and to foster wider achievement at school and in local communities.

“Feedback from young people in the Scottish Borders reinforces the conclusions from other research that young people feel they are given sufficient information about substance abuse. But it does not make sense to them for misuse education to be addressed separately from other issues such as relationships, bullying, sexual health and emotional health and wellbeing.

Alcohol and drug misuse prevention work is being done in education, health and youth work; new guidance has been provided by Health Scotland; the Lothian and Borders Police Framework on Young People and Alcohol outlines young people’s assumptions about what is ‘normal’ among their peer group; a drugs awareness officer has been appointed; and peer education is proving to be an effective way in dealing with changing attitudes to alcohol which needs to be done sooner rather than later to prevent the region’s youngsters facing serious health problems at a younger and younger age.