SHOCKING revelations about "increasingly common" substance abuse among young people with both drugs and alcohol too easily available for any age groups have been made in a special report by youth ambassadors in North Yorkshire.

“Drugs are easy to get round here. It’s not really a secret either,” and, “I think it’s been normalised. Even kids who don’t get into trouble will drink a lot at a party and get really drunk,” were some of the comments made to the Youth Commissioners who talked to more than 2,000 youngsters.

The research was part of a major investigation by 29 volunteer Youth Commissioners, who have made recommendations to police urging them to take a supportive harm reduction approach to young people who report drug or alcohol misuse, and promote programmes which offer early drug intervention. They are also calling for more education about the harm and effects of drugs and alcohol.

Their work comes after the deaths of three teenagers in the county over the past three years. In May 2019, 15-year-old Leah Heyes, from Northallerton, died after being given a large quantity of ecstasy. Two teenagers were sent to prison after admitting supplying the drugs. In May 2020, a 14-year-old girl died and a 13-year-old had to be treated in hospital in Scarborough and in September 2020, 15-year-old Josh Reeson from York died, all suspected of being given ecstasy. North Yorkshire Police said investigations are ongoing.  

Darlington and Stockton Times: Northallerton teen Leah Heyes was just 15 when she died after taking MDMA

Leah Heyes, from Northallerton

The report, which also looked at mental health, abusive relationships, hate crime, relationships with police and authorities, drug and alcohol abuse and missing young people and exploitation, was put together after a series of workshops and "Big Conversations" held with youngsters aged 14 to 25.

The Commissioners found: “There was a feeling amongst young people that this normalisation of drug and alcohol use at a young age led to a lack of awareness of the true dangers. They told us it was not uncommon for some young people to take substances without really knowing they were safe and without proper knowledge of their side effects.

“Similarly, in the case of alcohol, some participants reported drinking too much ‘by accident’ and many said they didn’t know enough about safe consumption. Overall, a lot of young people thought it would be beneficial to gain a better understanding of the effects of drugs and alcohol and would like to see more awareness raised on the potential harms of substance abuse.”

Other comments were: “More education on addiction, because it starts off as fun, but you won’t realise until it’s too late,” and, “education about safety rather than just an adult saying don’t do it."

They added: "Some young people also suggested it would be useful to hear from people with real-life experiences of drug or alcohol abuse, as this would be more authentic and relatable. Have someone as a real example. Show them, this is what can happen to you if you take drugs. To hear real-life experiences from young people. It’s no good having some teacher that’s never touched a drug in her life trying to tell you.”

They are also calling on the county's crime commissioner to support the development of new initiatives and activities, including sports clubs and personal development programmes to divert young people away from drug and alcohol misuse.