More funding urged for addiction services as high risk drinking rates soar over lockdown

Addiction services in England are in desperate need of a funding boost amid a steep rise in higher risk drinking, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said.

The number of people drinking at higher risk has almost doubled since just before the lockdown, its analysis of the latest figures suggests.

Data from Public Health England showed the prevalence was at almost a fifth (19%) in June, up from 10.8% in February.

Using population estimates from the Office for National Statistics, the college said the June figure equated to more than 8.4 million people, a rise from around 4.8 million four months earlier.

The Government must commit to “substantial” investment in public health to prevent more lives from being “needlessly lost” to addiction, the college’s president Dr Adrian James said.

A report by the college, published on Tuesday, is calling on the Government to reverse cuts and help local authorities work towards investing £374 million into adult services to address the increased need for treatment.

The organisation said the higher risk drinking spike comes alongside a rise in people seeking help for addiction to opiates, referring to National Drug Treatment Monitoring System statistics showing new adult cases in April up by around a fifth on the same time last year and at their highest level since 2015.

The college is warning that cuts made to addiction services since 2013/14 mean the higher numbers of people needing help could miss out on life-saving treatment.

Dr James (pictured) said: “Addiction services have been starved of funding in recent years meaning many are not able to treat and care for the huge numbers of people who are drinking at high risk.

“More lives will be needlessly lost to addiction unless the Government acts now and commits to substantial investment in public health, including adult addiction services, in the Spending Review.

“I urge the Government to implement the recommendations in our report which would see mental health services expand to be the biggest in Europe, with a much-needed focus on tackling inequalities.”

Professor Julia Sinclair, chair of the college’s addictions faculty, said: “Covid-19 has shown just how stretched, under-resourced and ill-equipped addiction services are to treat the growing numbers of vulnerable people living with this complex illness.

“There are now only five NHS inpatient units in the country and no resource anywhere in my region to admit people who are alcohol dependent with co-existing mental illness.

“Drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at all-time highs before Covid-19. I fear that unless the Government acts quickly we will see these numbers rise exponentially.”

British Medical Association mental health policy lead, Dr Andrew Molodynski, said the college’s analysis of the figures is “alarming” but “unfortunately not surprising”.

He described the rise in people facing addiction problems coupled with a lack of adequate services as “a very dangerous combination” and called for “urgent intervention”.

He said: “Specific funding must be allocated to local authorities who have sustained years of cuts, to enable them to substantially increase spending on public mental health.

“Now more than ever, it is crucial that some of this is directed towards substance abuse services as the impact of isolation along with the potential impact of job losses and economic downturn gives rise to higher dependence on substances.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We want everyone to have access to the right health services and local authorities know their communities best, which is why we have increased their funding this year, providing over £3.2 billion to spend on public health services like addiction.

“We support evidence-based approaches to reduce the health-related harms of drug misuse and, as part of our NHS Long Term Plan, alcohol care teams will be introduced in hospitals where alcohol-related admissions are high, intervening in 50,000 cases over five years to reduce harm.”

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