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Fears raised for young people with substance abuse problems as cuts affect access to support

Young people needing treatment for drug and alcohol addictions are left struggling to access services after the budgets for treatment have been reduced by a third, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.

New analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows £26m – or 37% - in real terms has been cut from youth addiction services in England between 2013/14 and 2019/20. Eight out of the nine regions in England made real terms cuts, with services in the North West (£9.3m), the West Midlands (£7.6m), and London (£4.6m) hit hardest.

Dr Emily Finch, vice-chair of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 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.

“It’s completely unsustainable and unbelievably short-sighted. We need to wake-up to the fact 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.

“On top of all this, the pandemic has made a dire situation even worse, as even more young people have been left unable to access services,” she added.

Young people accessing treatment services in England has fallen by 40%, from 14,802 in 2014/15 to 8,835 in 2020/21, across the period from April-January. The COVID-19 pandemic has likely impacted young people being able to access service as the largest decrease was in 2020/21.

The Royal College warns:

- The majority (88%) of young people accessing services in 2017/18 said they had a problem with cannabis use.

- While funding for services has been cut, research shows that cannabis has been getting stronger and potentially more harmful.

- Across Europe, the amount of THC – the psychoactive component linked to mental health problems – has doubled in herbal cannabis, from 5% in 2006 to 10% in 2016.

- Nearly half (46%) of young people accessing services said they had a problem with alcohol, making it the second most common problem substance.

- In 2018/19 there were over 40,000 alcohol-related admissions among the under 24s and 26% of these were for mental and behavioural disorders due to use of alcohol.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling on the government to boost public health funding for councils by £43m in real terms to bring spending on youth addictions services back to at least the 2013/14 level, equivalent to 2.4% of public health spending.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “More young people will continue to have their lives blighted by the harms of drugs and alcohol unless the government acts now and commits to substantial investment in public health, including youth addictions services.

“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,” he concluded.

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