Headline treatment numbers remain stable, but mask the full story

Today’s 2019/20 figures for adults in substance misuse treatment do not make happy reading, especially in light of yesterday’s Spending Review.

Some of the trends we have seen in recent years appear to be stabilising, which is welcome. Overall numbers of adults in treatment, and those entering treatment have remained broadly stable.

But the detail of the statistics – and their wider context – are worrying. The number of people in treatment for alcohol alone (the second largest cohort, after opiate users) has declined from over 90,000 in 2013/14 to fewer than 75,000. The need remains: four in five people in need of treatment are not accessing it, representing a quiet crisis in this country’s support for those with alcohol problems. This year has also seen an 11% drop in inpatient and residential support, plummeting 41% since 2014/15.

And there has been no improvement in the wider context of life-challenges that the majority of people entering treatment are dealing with. Almost two thirds of adults have a concurrent mental health support need, and almost a fifth have a housing problem.

The people we, as a field, support require high quality, evidence-based, personalised care  – but this has become almost impossible to provide in the context of reduced budgets and Covid-19, despite widespread innovation (e.g. a wider use of digital interventions).

Treatment saves lives, reduces crime, builds healthier communities and gives people meaning and connection. Sadly, today’s figures only add weight to our response to the Spending Review: that the potential of our system to deliver for some of our most deprived communities – and the public purse – has been overlooked.

Read our response to the Spending Review.

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