There has been a “very large increase” of young people stopped in Islington with prescription drugs since the start of the pandemic, according to a new report.
Police and social services have seen young people carrying “large amounts” of drugs such as Xanax and Diazepam, which are only available on prescription for conditions including anxiety.
Some local youngsters have had to seek hospital treatment after taking the drugs.
According to Islington’s annual child protection report: “It is a significant concern that it appears young people are also taking the drugs alongside being exploited to deal them.
“Some young people have had to be hospitalised due to taking these drugs. Young people and families do not understand the medical impact of taking this sort of medication without a prescription and when it is mixed with alcohol and other drugs.”
Last year, 15 boys and one girl were thought to be at risk of getting involved in crime, such as delivering drugs in the so-called county lines networks outside London.
It is thought that lockdowns disrupted dealers’ access to supplies of illegal drugs, so they turned their attention to prescription drugs, which can be dangerous if taken without understanding of their side effects.
The council’s director of safeguarding Laura Eden said in her report: “The pandemic has affected the ability to pull out themes and data for this year report as it will take some time to notice the patterns and be able to attribute them to the pandemic and/or the changing nature of exploitation.
“For large periods of the year it was more difficult for organised crime groups to get drugs in and out of the country and there was a thought that this would reduce the need to exploit young people to run drugs.”
During lockdown, young people using public transport to run drugs were more obvious as passenger numbers plummeted and they came on to the police’s radar.
The report continues: “When the lockdowns were lifted, drugs were once again needing to get to different parts of the country and this meant our young people were exploited to run the drugs.”
People were using different drugs and the poor quality and strength of heroin available on the streets encouraged some addicts to seek help to kick the habit.
The use of party drugs such as ecstasy also dropped when clubs and pubs were shuttered, which could have fuelled the demand for drugs such as Xanax, which may have been easier to get into the country during lockdowns.