Addiction services unequipped to deal with 8 million high risk drinkers

Analysis by the latest Public Health England figures by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has revealed that more than 8.4 million people are now drinking to levels described as ‘higher risk’ than in February, when just 4.8 million people were said to be at higher risk.

Due to continuing cuts to services, the Royal College has warned that addiction services are “ill-equipped to cope with the post-pandemic surge”.

Similar analysis of people seeking help for opiate addiction has also increased and is now at the highest level since 2015. Figures from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTSM) found that there were 3,459 new adult cases in April 2020 – up 20% from 2,947 in the same month last year.

With such an increase in figures, the Royal College is concerned that deep cuts made to the service since 2013 could mean people might miss out on getting access to desperately needed help.  In anticipation of the crisis, the Royal College has recently called for £43 million extra funding for children’s drug and alcohol services, as well as £30 million for new buildings and renovations to existing premises as part of their Next Steps for Funding Mental Health Care in England prevention report.

Commenting on the figures, Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

Addiction services have been starved of funding in recent years meaning many are not able to treat and care for the huge numbers of people who are drinking at high risk.

More lives will be needlessly lost to addiction unless the Government acts now and commits to substantial investment in public health, including adult addiction services, in the Spending Review.

I urge the government to implement the recommendations in our report which would see mental health services expand to be the biggest in Europe, with a much-needed focus on tackling inequalities.

With the risk of a second spike increasing, the need to find workable solutions to those at risk of alcohol addiction and associated health complications is also paramount. The report warns that people with alcohol use disorder are more likely to develop serious complications from COVID-19, while people using drugs such as heroin and benzodiazepines are more vulnerable to catching the virus.

Prof Julia Sinclair, Chair of the College’s Addictions Faculty, said: “Covid-19 has shown just how stretched, under-resourced and ill-equipped addiction services are to treat the growing numbers of vulnerable people living with this complex illness.

There are now only 5 NHS inpatient units in the country and no resource anywhere in my region to admit people who are alcohol dependent with co-existing mental illness.

Drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at all-time highs before COVID-19. I fear that unless the government acts quickly we will see these numbers rise exponentially.