The past year has seen a 27% increase in the number of deaths of adults in contact with drug and alcohol treatment services according to the 2020/21 substance misuse treatment statistics. NHS APA Vice-Chair Dr Emily Finch has urged the government to act on the concerning statistics outlined in this recent report, to help more people access “the comprehensive treatment they need”.
Among the figures released in the Adult Substance Misuse Treatment Statistics 2020-21 Report last week, there were some moderately encouraging trends such as a small increase in adults who are in contact with treatment services (275,896 compared with 270,705 in the previous year). Additionally, despite the disruption that COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused to services over the past year, there was also a slight increase in the number of adults who completed treatment. 50% out of those who exited treatment were free from dependence, compared with 47% in the previous year.
Unfortunately, some of the other statistics paint an alarming picture. Compared with the previous year, which saw a decrease in deaths among adults in contact with treatment services within all substance groups except for opiate users, this year has seen an increase in all groups. The most notable of these is arguably a 20% increase in the number of deaths among opiate users, as well as a 44% increase in the number of deaths among alcohol-only users.
Responding to these shocking statistics, NHS APA Vice-Chair Dr Emily Finch has said that "Unless the government sees this as a public health crisis, more lives will be needlessly lost to a treatable addiction".
In addition to an increase in the number of deaths, we have seen a continuation of worrying trends such as a 5% increase in the number of new entrants who use cannabis, and a 6% rise in the number of new entrants who use benzodiazepine.
"Unless the government sees this as a public health crisis, more lives will be needlessly lost to a treatable addiction."
As was reflected in Professor Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs, problems with housing and mental health are two significant correlations found among adults who misuse substances. More than 17% of all adults entering treatment last year reported having a housing problem, and a shocking 63% reported a mental health treatment need. Black outlined in her report how critical it is that people with drug dependencies have equal access to services including housing, employment, mental health, physical health support, and high-quality personalised care. Without this, further needless deaths are inevitable.
This report has served as a stark reminder that improvement in the sector is urgently needed. It is simply not good enough that 3726 of those adults who were in contact with treatment services last year sadly lost their lives to addiction, a 27% increase from the previous year. Dr Emily Finch has urged the government to act on the report and help more people access "the comprehensive treatment they need".
The NHS APA is committed to joining forces with our peers in the sector to work together to ensure that people with addiction receive the same parity of care in treatment services as people with physical health conditions receive. However, this simply cannot be achieved without adequate funding from the government. Despite the lack of additional financial commitment in the recent government spending review, we look forward to the release of the drug strategy in the coming weeks and hope that this will provide a settlement that allows us to start addressing the significant impact detailed above.