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Fighting back against the North-East's under-age drinking epidemic
7:00am Tuesday 14th January 2014 in News
A film for BBC 3 following the youth workers fighting back against the North-East's under-age drinking epidemic is being screened at 9pm on BBC 3 tonight (Tuesday, January 14). Health and Education Editor Barry Nelson considers the problem on our streets.
Under-age drinking is a serious issue in the North East. The region has the country's highest percentage of 11 to 15 year-olds drinking alcohol and also has double the national average of under-18's in treatment for drink related problems.
BBC3 documentary "Underage and Over the Limit" spent the summer months of 2013 in the North East looking into the reasons why young people in the region start drinking so early and to such excess.
The film follows the work of youth workers, who take to the streets to interact with young street drinkers directly.
Phil Tye set up Youth Almighty seven years ago, with a group of local volunteers in Silksworth, Sunderland to tackle underage drinking in the area.
"The quantities of alcohol they're drinking is greater. In the past young lads would drink cans and young girls would drink Bella and wines and things like that but increasingly we see more spirits, especially vodka".
The group supports hundreds of local teenagers by running a youth centre, which offers a warm, safe environment, where they can learn new skills and take part in positive mentoring, as an alternative to drinking alcohol and engaging in other potentially dangerous or anti-social behaviour.
Led by Phil, Youth Almighty now has 14 youth workers who go out every Friday and Saturday night, to engage with teens directly to make sure they are safe and to offer them use of the centre and other incentives, such as group activities or trips to theme parks, in order to get them to stop drinking.
"You can never predict what's going happen. Alcohol in adults is unpredictable so in young people it could be even more unpredictable".
The summer months see a peak in under-age drinking outdoors and teenagers will seek out remote, secluded drinking spots away from police patrols, which also poses further dangers.
"The issues around young females, the vulnerability issues when they're going away from parks and on street corners, on the way home I think that's our biggest concern amongst all of the staff".
Youth Almighty monitor social media so they can gather intelligence as to where these illicit gatherings will take place so they can find and reach out to potentially vulnerable young teens.
Many areas of the North-East experience similar problems during the summer months. After complaints from members of the public of anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking in the grounds of the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, in Teesdale, were locked up at night last summer.
From the beginning of July the grounds closed at 9.30pm each night, reopening at 8am the following morning, with private security guards patrolling the grounds between 7pm and 10pm on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The North-East alcohol office, Balance, has been campaigning to persuade the Government to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.
The director of Balance, Colin Shevills, is convinced that this will help to prevent young drinkers getting their hands on cheap, strong alcohol - such as white cider - which he says is sold at "pocket money prices."
Plans for a 45p price per unit of alcohol in England and Wales were floated in a consultation, but last June Home Office minister Jeremy Browne confirmed in the Commons that they would not be taken forward.
Mr Browne also ruled out a ban on multi-buy promotions due to a lack of convincing evidence that it would have a significant effect on consumption. But he said there would be a ban on the sale of alcohol for below the rate of duty and VAT in England and Wales, meaning a can of lager would cost at least 40p.
At the time of the announcement Mr Shevills said: ""We are bitterly disappointed. Without doubt, it will cost lives across our region, while failing to cut alcohol-related crime and reduce the burden on our already overstretched hospitals.
"Despite Government suggestions to the contrary, the evidence behind the introduction of a minimum unit price is overwhelming. Six countries have introduced minimum unit pricing for alcohol and we are beginning to see significant benefits.
"In Canada alone, a ten per cent price increase resulted in a 32 per cent fall in alcohol-related deaths.
"This is a real victory for the alcohol industry and its shareholders and a big loss for vulnerable groups in the North-East."
Official figures show that 40 per cent of 13-year-olds and 58 per cent of 15-year-olds who have drunk alcohol have experienced negative consequences including smoking, taking drugs and unprotected sex; A total of 63 per cent of young people aged 18-24 who binge drink admit to criminal or disorderly behaviour during or after drinking. This figure is far higher than for other regular drinkers of the same age group; The UK also has one of the highest percentages of 15 and 16-year-olds who have engaged in unprotected sex as a result of alcohol use.
Studies also indicate that starting to drink at an early age can have long-term effects, too. These include the fact that it can increase your risk of alcohol misuse fourfold in later life.
According to official figures, alcoholic liver disease in the under 30s has risen by 50 per cent in the last ten years, as people drink more from an earlier age.
Under-age and Over the Limit is made by Special Edition Films as part of the Fresh strand of films by new directors for BBC3. Produced and Directed by Louis Grover, the film will broadcast on Tuesday, January 14 on BBC3 at 9pm.
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