Latest treatment statistics
The latest drug and alcohol treatment figures (published together for the first time in one report, on 3 December 2015) cover everyone in treatment in 2014/15.
The figures cover very nearly 300,000 people who were in contact with drug and alcohol services in the last financial year. As you can see, over half (51.8%) are opiate users and well over a quarter (30.2%) only misuse alcohol.
The treatment population is getting older
The age profile of people in treatment is rising. Just under half (44%) of the 152,964 people in treatment for opiates are now 40 and over. Since 2009-10, the number of opiate users aged 40 and over starting treatment has risen by 21% (12,761 to 15,487). This ageing cohort is often in poor health, with a range of vulnerabilities associated with long-term drug use. These people require a wide range of support, including social care.
There is a similar picture for those seeking help for their alcohol problem.
Since 2009-10, the number aged 40 and over accessing services has risen by 21% and the number aged 50 and over by 44%. Many of these people will have been drinking at high-risk levels for some time and are likely to be experiencing health harm such as liver disease and hypertension.
Younger people not using treatment services
The majority of younger people (18-24) presenting to treatment in 2014-15 cited problems with either cannabis or cocaine (7,369 – 52% of the total, and 3,272, 23%). Most presentations for new psychoactive substances (NPS) are also in the younger age groups, though the total number accessing treatment for NPS remains very low (1,370, 0.5%).
Overall, the number of under-25s accessing treatment has fallen by 33% since 2009-10, with the largest decrease in opiates (mainly heroin) where the numbers presenting to treatment have fallen by 60%. This reflects a shift in the type of drug use among young adults.
It appears that the large number of young people using NPS, MDMA (now more commonly known as Molly or Mandy rather than ecstasy) and cocaine do not see drug treatment agencies as providing a service to them, despite the latest epidemic of media stories about the prevalence of chemsex.
Success rates falling
Since 2013 the overall rate of people exiting treatment successfully has slowed. This is mainly because the rate of opiate clients successfully completing treatment has fallen (from 37% in 2011/12 to 30% last year), which is likely to be a result of those now in treatment having more entrenched drug use and long-standing and complex problems.
In all, 130,609 people exited the drug and alcohol treatment system in 2014-15, with 52% (67,788) being recorded as having successfully completed their treatment free of dependence. We will have to wait for future years’ figures to see how many relapse and return to treatment.
Increase in death rates
The number of people who died while in contact with services in 2014-15 was 2,360. Most of these (61%, 1,428) were opiate clients who tended to be over 40 (median age 43) and were likely to have been using heroin for a long time.
While not all deaths in treatment will be attributable to an individual’s substance use, the use of drugs is a significant cause of premature mortality in the UK.
Drug misuse deaths registered in England and Wales between 2012 and 2014 increased by 42%, with the number now 2,120 per year, the highest since records began in 1993. The number of deaths involving heroin in 2014 increased by 64% from 2012.
Among those accessing treatment for alcohol only problems, there were 792 deaths. Again the majority were aged 40 and over, (median age 49).
Users of other substances made up the remaining deaths, with the lowest number of deaths seen among users of non-opiates (39 deaths), the lowest median age (35 years) was also seen in this population.
It’s important to note that the drug-related death rate among people in treatment is significantly lower than among those who are not in treatment.
This is a rather dispiriting set of figures, especially when you consider that the funding cuts which other social care sectors have had to contend with for the last five-six years are only just beginning to hit drug and alcohol services.
An ageing treatment population with fewer young people accessing services are clear causes for concern.
However, the most worrying statistic of all in this report is the very high failure rate for opiate users:
Less than one quarter (24%) of the 273,898 opiate clients who have been in contact with treatment services since 2005/6 had completed treatment and not returned by 31 March 2015.