Thousands of children falling through the cracks as pandemic and funding cuts take their toll

Press release
03 February 2022

Thousands of children and young people with drug and alcohol problems are falling through the cracks because of the perfect storm created by the pandemic and years of drastic funding cuts to youth addiction services, says the Royal College of Psychiatrists. 

Analysis of new data from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) found that 11,013 under-18s were in treatment for drug and alcohol dependency in England last year (2020/21). This is 3,278 (23%) fewer than in 2019/20 - the sharpest annual fall since records began – and 13,481 fewer (55%) than the peak in 2008/09.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is warning that a perfect storm of the pandemic and drastic historic funding cuts is stopping young people from accessing the drug and alcohol treatment they need, potentially consigning them to a lifetime of addiction and associated issues.

Additional analysis of new data from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities shows the amount spent on youth addiction services has fallen in real terms by £30.49million - from £73.68 million in 2013/14 to £43.19million in 2020/21 - a drop of 41%.

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

“Children and their families up and down the country are having their lives blighted by drug and alcohol use due to drastic cuts, workforce shortages, and the impact of the pandemic.

“Addiction is a treatable health condition. Intervening early will mean many kids won’t go on to have an addiction in their adulthood, keeping them out of the criminal justice system and helping them to live full lives. 

“It’s now time for the government to act on their promise and deliver the multi-million-pound investment into drug services.”

The funding analysis found that every region in England has made real-terms funding cuts since 2013/14, ranging from 8% in Yorkshire and Humber to 61% in the West Midlands.

The data on youth substance misuse treatment from the NDTMS shows that most children in treatment (89% (9,832)) said they had a problem with cannabis, while 41% (4,459) said they had a problem with alcohol. Additionally, 12% (1,333) said they had a problem with ecstasy and 9% (976) reported a problem with powder cocaine.

In response to Dame Carol Black’s report on the future of addiction services, the government has said that £780million of new money will be given for drug treatment over the next three years. The Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomed this announcement and is urging the government to ensure this funding reaches the frontline as a matter of urgency.

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