Thousands of children are falling through the cracks of youth search services due to Covid, staff shortages and funding cuts, psychiatrists said, as figures suggest the number able to get help has fallen to its lowest on record.
Analysis of data from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) revealed that 11,013 under-18s were in treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in England in 2020-21, down 3,278 (23%) from 2019- 20 It was the sharpest annual drop on record and means 13,481 fewer children were being treated than in 2008-09.
The vast majority of children treated (89% or 9,832) had a problem with cannabis and 41% (4,459) had a problem with alcohol. About 12% (1,333) had problems using ecstasy and 9% (976) reported a problem with powder cocaine.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which analyzed the data, said the pandemic, along with “drastic” historical cuts in funding, has prevented young people from accessing the drug and alcohol treatment they need and potentially condemned them to a life of addiction .
Spending on youth search services in England has been cut by 41% in real terms since 2013-14 to £43.19m in 2020-21, with two regions cutting spending by 60% or more.
Every region in England has made real funding cuts since 2013-14, ranging from 8% in Yorkshire and Humber to 61% in the West Midlands, it said.
dr Emily Finch, vice-chair of the Addiction Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Children and their families across the country are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to drastic cuts, labor shortages and the impact of the pandemic.
“Addiction is a treatable health condition. Early intervention means many children will no longer have addictions by adulthood, keeping them out of the criminal justice system and helping them live fulfilling lives. It is now time for the Government to deliver on its promise and deliver the multi-million pound investment in drug services.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it recognizes the impact of the pandemic on children and young people and is committed to supporting people suffering from drug and alcohol abuse.
A spokesman said: “We are taking action under our groundbreaking 10-year drugs strategy, which is being backed by a record £780m for treatment – this includes £533m over three years to help rebuild drug abuse treatment services in England, to ensure those who abuse drugs and alcohol are given the support they need to recover.
“This comes on top of our mental health recovery action plan, which includes an additional £79m in funding that will be used to expand mental health services for children in 2021-22.”