CHILDREN as young as four were among hundreds of youngsters being referred to specialist drug and alcohol treatment services in the UK.

It appears that primary school children were being flagged as at risk of becoming addicts after local authorities provided information on the age of youngsters they referred to alcohol and drug specialists.

No figures were available for Worcestershire referrals, which a Worcestershire County Council spokesman said was because the council had not been asked to provide them. 140 other councils did provide information.

Among them was Herefordshire, where it was revealed a child as young as nine had been referred to the services.

In Birmingham 11-year-olds had been referred while in Gloucestershire the youngest age for referral was 12.

Treatment experts said the most common reason for children to come into contact with drugs and alcohol was through their parents and preventative work was key to heading off misuse among youngsters.

Andrew Brown, director of programmes at charity Mentor UK, which works to protect children from drug and alcohol misuse, called for more education in schools.

He said: "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.

"This may sound sufficient, but 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."

However, the Government defended the curriculum, adding that all pupils should be taught about how drugs and other substances can be harmful to the body.

Schools are required by law to cover the harmful effects of drugs on behaviour and health as part of the national science curriculum.

A new national curriculum being introduced in September says pupils in year six at primary school - those aged 10 and 11 - must be taught to "recognise the impact of diet, exercise and drugs and lifestyle on the way their bodies function".

Some 366 children aged 12 or under were referred for treatment in 2012/13 in England, according to the most recent figures from Public Health England, compared with 433 in 2011/12.

More than half of under-13s - 59 per cent - received treatment for cannabis misuse, while a third were treated for alcohol misuse.

A small number abused solvents.

Children as young as four had been referred in South Ayrshire, although that was due to being affected by parental substance misuse.

The investigation was carried out by national news agency the Press Association.