'Eight-year-olds are now taking drugs' - expert
Irish children are experimenting with drugs like cannabis while still in national school, a top psychiatrist has warned.
Dr Gerry McCarney, who works with the young person's programme at the National Drug Treatment Centre, said it was not unusual to meet young people who began smoking cannabis as young as eight or ten.
The psychiatrist, who deals with young drug takers under the SASSY Project Dublin (Substance Abuse Service Specific to Youth), warned that large numbers of young children could be falling under the radar when it comes to drugs and alcohol experimentation.
"It's not unusual for me to meet a young person who began smoking cannabis at the age of 10. And that's a worry.
"I think the youngest person we have worked with was 11, when they came into us. Obviously, they had started using sometime before that.
"Certainly we have quite a few people who would have begun drug use earlier than that. I think the earliest that someone indicated they had begun dabbling with cannabis was eight," added Dr Gerry McCarney.
He called for a greater level of drug-awareness education to be rolled out in national schools, saying the worry was that there are "quite a lot of very young people out there who are dabbling" but not being treated by any services.
He said American studies which state that children between the ages of eight and 13 begin to appreciate the beneficial effects of drugs or alcohol without seeing the risks. "They were certainly suggesting that education in schools should pre-date that and I have to say I can see no reason to disagree with it," he added.
Dr McCarney, who was speaking as part of the 2015 Regional Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week, said, developmentally, children learn to experiment significantly earlier than they learn to assess situations and risks.