Agencies working to tackle addiction are calling for more efforts to help younger people, amid concerns a new generation of drug users is being neglected by existing services.

The latest figures on deaths from drug misuse, published earlier this week, were described as “shocking” by Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick, and suggest Scotland has a worse rate of death from drugs than the US and any other country in Europe.

Attention has focused on the fact that the majority of the 1187 people who died from drugs in 2018 were older users, dubbed the “Trainspotting” generation, whose overall health may have been compromised by years of substance abuse.

But a rise of 24 per cent in the number of under 35s dying from drug misuse has led to warnings that the risks to younger drug users are being neglected.

The number of people in this age group losing their lives to drugs is rising almost as fast as it is for the population at large.

Deaths among people aged under 35 rose by 58 in 2018 to 282, a 24 per cent increase.

Meanwhile 65 people aged under 24 died. This is an increase of 67 per cent on the 2017 figure of 39 deaths.

For both men and women in the 25 to 34, age range, 2018 saw the highest ever recorded number of deaths. (164 for men and 53 for women).

Emma Crawshaw, chief executive of harm reduction charity Crew 2000 said there was a need to act sooner where younger people are using drugs. “We shouldn’t wait until someone’s use is problematic before we offer education, harm reduction and on-going support,” she said.

“However, the stigma attached to drug use and the people who take them, and the ‘taboo’ around talking about drugs that results from criminalization, makes it difficult to implement effective drug prevention as part of school education.”

Teachers fear having discussions about harm reduction for fear of being criticised for either condoning or promoting drug use, but there is an urgent need for effective drug education, she added.

Meanwhile many social issues which are commonly thought to be a factor in the drug use of older adults are equally affecting younger people, Ms Crawshaw said, including cuts to services and benefits and childhood trauma and neglect. “We need to look at drug-related deaths and the situation in Scotland as a wider public health issue. We need to address the impacts of adverse childhood environments and experiences, trauma and the wider social and economic causes of health inequalities, all of which contribute to and exacerbate drug harms and drug-related deaths." she said.

David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) said some families were seeing a second or third generation of drug problems, and added: “The talk of a Trainspotting generation has given the impression that Scotland’s drug deaths problem is time limited. But we are seeing the emergence of the next generation.

"These deaths show that we have underlying problems within society that are still there and need to be dealt with.”

He said a focus on older drug users was still important as death rates remain high among this group. In the past many felt they were treated like “wallpaper” by services and written off.

But addressing their needs should not be at the expense of other groups, Mr Liddell said. “SDF has pushed hard, along with others for the needs of older drug users to be recognised,” he said. “But there is a danger that the younger group are forgotten about to an extent. There shouldn’t be any complacency about this.

“What this highlights is that the problems that created the older 35s group are still there in terms of poverty, deprivation, marginalisation alongside issues such as childhood trauma”.

In some cases, that might include bereavement related to drugs, he said, as the problems of one generation affect the next.

Schools-based research has shown drug use down overall among younger people. But that may be masking increasing problems for the most vulnerable, Mr Liddle said.

“There is a need for services for vulnerable young people which are not specific to drug use, but which might reach people who are beginning to develop drug problems, because that drug use is usually a symptom of other underlying problems,” he said.

However services geared to individuals who are much older, may need to change their approach. “It is less clear but there is a sense that this younger group is using less heron but combining alcohol, benzodiazepines and potentially Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPSs)”.

“People primarily using stimulants, particularly cocaine, may well not view existing services as appropriate for them.”

Statistics suggest younger drug users are abusing a similar mix of drugs to to the wider drug-dependent population, with 130 deaths of under 35s linked to heroin, 92 to methadone, 197 to benzodiazepines and 95 to cocaine. Figures list 136 deaths of people who had taken NPSs (formerly known as ‘legal highs’).

The Scottish Government published a revised drug and alcohol strategy last November, built around a public health approach to substance misuse. It states; “We cannot be complacent that problem drug

use is decreasing amongst young people,” however it says better data is needed to understand drug trends amongst young people.

The strategy says alcohol and drug education in schools will be improved but says classroom based approaches will not be enough. “We recognise that for some, traditional education methods are not working or not appropriate, and these children and young people can be more at risk,” it says.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As set out in our refreshed alcohol and drug treatment strategy, we want to ensure all people who require effective treatment have access to it and that services are prepared to support our young people and respond to their problem substance use and its associated harms.

“Every drug death is an avoidable tragedy, and the Scottish Government is prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk.

“Young people need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to challenge and resist misinformation and pressure through social media.  We are continuing to develop our online resources to ensure they provide accurate and relevant information around alcohol and drug use and how to access help.

“We are determined to shape our services in every walk of life to prevent harm and reduce the appalling number of deaths. The Minister for Public Health, Joe FitzPatrick, has set out that he will give consideration to any proposals the drug deaths taskforce brings forward which may help to tackle this issue and, ultimately, save lives.”