Children struggling to access drug and alcohol addiction services in England, data suggests

The number of children able to access youth addiction services in England has fallen to its lowest level on record during the pandemic, new figures suggest.

Analysis of data from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) found that 11,013 under-18s were in treatment for drug and alcohol dependency during 2020/21, some 3,278 (23%) fewer than in 2019/20.

This is the sharpest annual fall since records began – and represents 13,481 fewer (55%) children being treated than during a peak in 2008/09.

The vast majority of children in treatment (89% or 9,832) have a problem with cannabis and 41% (4,459) have a problem with alcohol.

Some 12% (1,333) are struggling with ecstasy use while 9% (976) reported a problem with powder cocaine.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which analyzed the data, said the pandemic together with “drastic” historic funding cuts is stopping young people accessing the drug and alcohol treatment they need, potentially condemning them to a life of addiction.

It said spending on youth addiction services in England has been slashed by 41% in real terms since 2013/14, with two regions cutting spending by 60% or more.

These figures, from the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, show the amount spent on youth addiction services has dropped by £30.49 million, from £73.68 million in 2013/14 to £43.19 million in 2020/21 (41% fall) .

Dr Emily Finch, vice-chair of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Children and their families up and down the country are having their lives blighted by drug and alcohol use due to drastic cuts, workforce shortages, and the impact of the pandemic.

“Addiction is a treatable health condition. Intervening early will mean many kids won’t go on to have an addiction in their adulthood, keeping them out of the criminal justice system and helping them to live full lives.

“It’s now time for the Government to act on their promise and deliver the multimillion-pound investment into drug services.”

The college’s analysis found that every region in England has made real terms funding cuts since 2013/14, ranging from 8% in Yorkshire and Humber to 61% in the West Midlands.

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