THERE has been a sharp increase in the number of young people in Somerset needing hospital treatment for substance abuse.

Public Health England figures show there were 220 hospital admissions in the county of 15 to 24-year-olds in 2018-19.

The total represents a 68 per cent increase of the figure for two years previous to that.

Public Health England says the figures are representative of hospital admissions where the primary diagnosis could be mental and behavioural disorders due to either opioids such as heroin; cannabinoids (THC); sedatives (alcohol and Xanax); cocaine, hallucinogens (like LSD and ketamine) and psychoactive substances like Spice.

Across the South West, NHS hospitals had to deal with 1,725 admission for substance abuse by children and young adults between 2016 and 2018, hundreds more than they faced a decade ago.

Nuno Albuquerque, group treatment lead at addiction firm UKAT said: "These figures are extremely concerning, especially because they won’t paint the whole picture.

"There’ll be countless more children and young adults living across the South West misusing drugs without the need for hospitalisation. This report shows the worst outcomes of when kids ‘experiment’ with drugs.

"Drug misuse at such an early age of life can result in real long-term physical and social problems. Not only are they negatively altering the way their brain grows and develops, but they could miss out on education, develop limited and stinted human relationships, become withdrawn from society and turn to crime to fund their habit.

"It’s imperative that a significant proportion of the annual Public Health Grant is allocated next month by councils across the South West to educating and engaging with children in schools to prevent future generations from misusing drugs.

"Given the current Coronavirus crisis, society should be doing everything it can to ease the pressure on the NHS at this incredibly difficult time, and that means investing in preventative steps to reduce the number of kids needing hospitalising because of drugs in the future.”