The number of people in England hooked on drink or drugs who are being treated for their addiction is falling, prompting claims of a crisis in substance misuse services, writes Denis Campbell for The Guardian.
The latest annual statistics show that the number of adults in England undergoing treatment for addiction dropped last year from 279,793 to 268,390 – a fall of 11,403, or 4%.
But data from Public Health England (PHE) also shows that the number of people in treatment has fallen every year since 2009-10, apart from a rise in 2013-14. And, over the entire period, the 268,390 total for 2017-18 was 14% less than the tally for 2009-10, when 311,667 were treated for substance abuse problems.
PHE said only one in eight of the 589,101 people believed to have a serious drink problem were treated, leaving more than 500,000 receiving no help.
The agency said the 4% drop in the number of people treated for any addiction last year was “the largest fall seen over the last six years and a decrease of 11% since a peak of 2013-14”.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “The fact that the numbers receiving help for drug and alcohol addiction has fallen on this scale reveals the desperate crisis in substance misuse services.”
Ashworth, the son of an alcoholic father, laid the blame on Whitehall-ordered cuts to local councils’ public health budgets in recent years. “Quite simply, years of Tory cuts to the public health grant are now having devastating consequences for some of the most vulnerable in society,” he said.
PHE acknowledged that the fall in the number of people being treated because they are dependent on alcohol was not because fewer people were addicted.
In its annual report on those in treatment for addiction, it said: “There were an estimated 589,101 adults with alcohol dependency in need of specialist treatment in 2016-2017. These alcohol dependency estimates have remained relatively stable over the last five years, which suggests that the falls in the numbers of alcohol-dependent people accessing treatment does not reflect a fall in prevalence.”
The charity Addaction said a “shamefully small” proportion of people affected were receiving treatment and people in real need were being denied help.
“The system as it stands is not supporting nearly enough people. We’re reaching a shamefully small fraction of those who need help,” said Steve Moffatt, its public policy manager.
“The situation in terms of funding has been very tough for quite a few years and it’s time to protect and invest in alcohol treatment services.” More help needed to be made available online, especially to help younger alcohol addicts who preferred to be supported that way, added Moffatt.
This week’s budget confirmed that the government would boost the NHS budget in England by £20bn by 2023-24.
Despite that, ministers have come under attack for funding some of that increase by pushing through further cuts to parts of the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget that are not ringfenced. They include money which it gives to local councils in England to pay for important public health programmes, including treatment of those with substance addiction.
“It’s all the more shameful that when, for example, almost 590,000 adults with alcohol dependency are in need of specialist treatment that the Tory government is still pushing ahead with cuts to public health services as part of wider £1bn worth of health cuts currently penciled in for next year,” added Ashworth.
The annual figures show that:
- 141,189 people in England were treated last year for addiction to opiates, mainly heroin, down 4%.
- The number of adults being treated because they are hooked on crack cocaine rose by 19% year-on-year, from 3,657 to 4,301.
- Fewer people are being treated for addiction to new psychoactive substances (down 16% year-on-year), ecstasy (down 7%) and mephedrone (down 53%).
- 69% of all those treated were men and 31% were women.
- Of all those undergoing treatment, 84% were of white British ethnicity.
Ashworth praised PHE for publishing for the first time figures showing how many addicts have children under the age of 18. In all, 25,593 people who began treatment last year lived with a total of 46,109 offspring, PHE said.‘Desperate crisis’ as addiction services reach fewer people