Today The Gazette can reveal the true toll of alcohol and drugs on the town’s young people.
Alarming figures released by hospital bosses reveal hundreds of children and teenagers were rushed to Blackpool Victoria’s A&E last year after swallowing booze or drugs.
Almost 100 youngsters aged up to 17 were seen by emergency doctors because of drink last year, while hundreds more young people - including 162 girls and boys aged 11 and under – were seen because of drugs.
A further 54 children aged between 12 and 14 and 166 children between 15 and 17 were admitted in 2012/13.
The hospital says the drug figures include both illegal and legal drugs, including prescription and over the counter medicines.
But they show a rise on the previous year when 114 children aged 11 and under were admitted along with 72 children aged 12-14 and 114 aged 15 to 17.
And emergency alcohol admission figures also increased compared to 2011/12. In 2012/13, 92 boys and girls aged up to 17 were admitted, compared with 78 the year before.
Laurance Hancock, general manager of the Boathouse Youth club, based in Bloomfield ward, said: “The big issue here is with role models because if they are seeing adults around them drinking all the time they are perhaps at a greater risk of wanting to experiment themselves.
“No amount of education can stop young people experimenting but it’s important they are educated about the dangers and the risks and fully understand why the law is in place.”
Youngsters from the club also told of their shock at the figures - and shared their experiences on alcohol and drugs. Ashley Thompson, 16, from Louise Street, Blackpool, said: “It’s pretty horrible to hear about those figures.
“I used to see people skive from school to go for a beer and people with ecstasy in school. They offered it to me but I just stepped away.
“I’ve grown up around this area and nobody ever sat me down to tell me what was right or wrong about them.”
Members of the youth group were given lessons on the realities of a life with drugs when a police officer built a mock crack den. The youngsters say it made them think about the realities of a drug addict’s life and said more practical lessons should take place in schools. Josh Stacey, 16, from Linfield Terrace, South Shore, added: “I was shocked when I heard there was 11-year-olds or under being admitted to hospital.
“For us to fully understand drugs and what happens a centre needs to be opened somewhere which would be like a normal shop that people could go into and get advice.
“I knew a friend of the family who once took drugs at a party and became addicted.
“He had everything going for him like a job and a family but from taking drugs he is left with nothing. Obviously, young people drink and we know where to get it from, but rules need to be more strict.
“The police shouldn’t pour drink away when they find it on people, they should be prosecuting them to teach them a lesson.”
Dr Arif Rajpura, director of Public Health and Blackpool Council, admits more work is needed on the issue
“We are working to educate children on the risks of alcohol consumption as well as making parents aware of the dangers of drinking, particularly with younger children, as they have a greater chance of developing alcohol poisoning.”
A spokeswoman for Blackpool Victoria Hospital said the drugs figures included “all incidents of drug related presentations including deliberate, accidental, prescription and illegal. They can range from a toddler who has accidentally been given too much paracetamol or ingested something inappropriate to a juvenile taking a toxic substance.”
She added: “We do not believe there are underlying reasons for concern, the figures cover a wide spectrum of presentations. We always give support and advice appropriate to the condition the patient presents with.”
What the youngsters think
The Gazette spoke to young people at The Boathouse Youth about the views on drink and drugs...
Jake McGibney, 13, from Haig Road, South Shore, said: “It’s not surprising to hear figures like that because I know a lot of kids who do stuff like drink and drugs. Shops need to ask for ID more because there are some out there that serve kids. I know people who can get alcohol and it’s easy to get it now, but I’ve never tried to do it. I’ve learned how bad it is from seeing my brother going out and drinking and that has taught me not to do it. If I did something like that my mum would probably kick me out of the house.”
Keira Greaves, 11, from Wolsley Road, South Shore, added: “I’ve seen drugs in the street and it’s scary to think about. I’m not tempted to try them because I know they are bad and I’ve heard about what they do on the news. I know that drug addicts won’t live long because they are always struggling for money. Some of the figures are for people my age are scary. I can’t imagine my friends doing it.”
CASE STUDY - Blackpool ‘one of the worst’
When former addict Matt Idle had his first drink at 14 it was all a bit of harmless fun.
But it nearly destroyed his life, after starting him on a slippery slope which ended in prison for a string of offences, including burglary and robbery, which he get involved in to fund his worsening habits.
Now clean for seven years after moving to Blackpool following his prison sentence, the 40-year-old works as a substance misuse worker, speaking to youngsters across the Fylde about the dangers of drink and drugs.
And he believes the resort is one of the hardest hit areas.
“I’ve done talks all over the place and from the people I’ve spoken to, Blackpool’s kids are so much worse. There needs to be more for them to do and it needs to be done quickly.
“If someone is drinking when they are at school it needs to be addressed and they shouldn’t just be getting a slap on the wrist. Schools need to run programmes.”
Mr Idle regularly speaks to offenders in Kirkham Prison about the problems youngsters face in drinking too early.
He added: “I started drinking with my friends in the park as you do, but when they stopped I carried on.
“It went on to bigger things and I started hanging around with older people and took drugs and with drugs came prison.
“My family tried to help me and I went to rehab a couple of times and had classes with youth offending teams but I didn’t stop and that led to 13 years in and out of prison.
“It got really bad and I was living on the streets, wasn’t eating for days and sleeping in doorways.
“I didn’t really have much of a relationship with my family at that time. I wasn’t interested in them telling me what I was doing wrong.
“During all of this my mum passed away but I don’t really remember that. She didn’t see me clean and it was only until I got out of prison, after she had died, that I got clean, which was a big regret.
“My message young people would be that if you start drinking at a young age it’s only going to go one way.”