CHILDREN as young as 11 being referred to drug and alcohol treatment services by North-East councils, according to new research.

The children are among hundreds of youngsters - some as young as four - being referred for specialist treatment in the UK.

Charities have called for improved drugs education in schools as the investigation revealed that primary school children are at risk of becoming addicts.

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Treatment experts said the most common reason for children to come into contact with drugs and alcohol is through their parents.

Experts believe that preventative work is key to heading off misuse among youngsters.

The Government pointed to the new school curriculum, which specifies that all pupils should be taught about how drugs and other substances can be harmful to the body.

Using freedom of information laws, councils across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were approached and revealed that 366 children aged 12 or under had been referred to alcohol and drug specialists in 2012-13 in England, compared with 433 the previous year.

In the North-East 11-year-olds were referred for specialist drug or alcohol treatment at Darlington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, while 12-year-olds were referred from Stockton and Sunderland.

More than half of under-13s received treatment for cannabis misuse, while a third were treated for alcohol misuse. A small number abused solvents.

Andrew Brown, director of programmes at the charity Mentor UK, which works to protect children from drug and alcohol misuse, said he was shocked at the findings.

Mr Brown said: “We think it is vital that alcohol and drug education improve. Our own survey of teachers suggests that at the moment delivery is inconsistent and that the norm is to timetable only one or two sessions a year.

“Evidence would suggest that longer programmes that systematically build skills and values are much more likely to prevent young people from coming to harm than one-off lessons.”

A new national curriculum being introduced in September says pupils in year six at primary school – those aged ten or 11 – must be taught to “recognise the impact of diet, exercise and drugs and lifestyle on the way their bodies function.”