Deaths from alcohol-specific causes rise to record high in 2020

Yesterday’s release of alcohol-specific death statistics for 2019 included provisional data which showed – shockingly – that there were 5,460 deaths from January to September 2020, a 16.4% increase compared with the same period in 2019. The death rate (12.8 per 100,000 people) is now at its highest point since 2001.

Sadly, for many working in the substance misuse treatment field, these figures will not come as a surprise. Our sector has seen year-on-year cuts since 2015 that amount to a 40 per cent reduction in treatment budgets in some parts of the country. Meanwhile, there remains huge unmet need among people who are dependent on alcohol, with the latest estimates suggesting just 1 in 5 adults who would benefit from treatment are accessing it. Alcohol dependency also remains closely tied to deprivation – men living in the most deprived parts of the country, for instance, are dying from alcohol-specific causes at four times the rate of those living in the least deprived areas.

Against that backdrop, the effects of Covid-19 lockdown – which saw heavy drinkers consuming more alcohol, and a wider shift towards drinking more frequently – feel as inevitable as they are depressing.

The second part of the Black Review is squarely focused on drug treatment rather than substance misuse as a whole (although it could have a significant impact on alcohol treatment too; most treatment services support substance misuse as a whole).

It is therefore critical that treatment for alcohol dependency is not left unaddressed in the national policy debate. We believe a focussed and ambitious political response to the Black Review is necessary, as is a robust, multi-year financial settlement.

The next step must then be the development of a new Addictions Strategy to both develop and embed the Black Review’s recommendations and ensure that alcohol treatment is not left behind.

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