The number of services that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and the cuts that have followed are almost immeasurable. New evidence from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) suggests addiction services for young people have been some of the worst hit, more worrying however is the fact that these cuts seem to have been slowly getting more severe since 2013, leaving thousands of young people vulnerable.
Between 2013/14 and 2019/20 £26m has been cut from youth addiction services and the RCP have also found that since 2014/15 the number of young people able to access treatment through these services has fallen by 40%. With ease of access to services being even more severely hindered by the pandemic and multiple lockdowns and the mental health of young people in jeopardy as reported by the Mental Health Foundation, the RCP are calling on the government and local councils to boost spending on addiction services by £43m.
The current funding and treatment of addictions services is not sustainable.
Dr Emily Finch, the vice-chair of addictions at the RCP has said “These cuts risk condemning a generation of vulnerable young people with drug or alcohol problems to a lifetime of dependence and poor health, or in some cases, an early death.”
Although the figure of £43m may seem like a lot, this is the very minimum needed to bring the services back to the level they were at in 2013/2014 and is only the equivalent of 2.4% of public health spending.
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Dr Finch says this is the best way to sustainably support addiction services and the NHS at large, she emphasised that “money spent on addictions services saves the NHS a whole lot more in the long run, whether that’s in A&E or in other mental health services”, she also reiterated “On top of all of this, the pandemic has made a dire situation even worse, as even more young people have been left unable to access services.”
The RCP’s analysis notes that in 2017/18, 88% of young people accessing addiction services reported a problem with cannabis use and have suggested that this may be as a result of the cannabis now most commonly sold on the street becoming more potent. From 2006 to 2016 the amount of THC present – the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis – has doubled in cannabis from 5% to 10%.
The second most common substance problem was alcohol, making up nearly half of the service users. The RCP states in their analysis that in 2018 there were over 40,000 alcohol-related admissions among those under the age of 24, out of this number 26% were admitted due to behavioural or mental disorders as a result of their alcoholism.
Given the fact that those with any kind of substance dependence are twice as likely as the general population to be accessing mental health services, and that we are currently already in a mental health crisis as it is, with mental health services stretched to their very limit, it appears counter intuitive to be cutting funds to addiction services so brutally.
President of the RCP, Dr Adrian James said “Addictions services do have a cost, but the cost of addiction to society is far greater. The £43m we are calling for is nothing less than an essential investment in the health of our young people.”
The government have yet to issue a statement that suggests addiction services, particularly those that are to support young people, are part of their post-pandemic Build Back Better incentive.