Budget cuts could reverse falling drug use rates among young people

Ongoing budget cuts and restructuring in the public sector are putting young people’s services at risk and could threaten progress in reducing levels of drug and alcohol use (see story, left), says a report from the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) in association with DrugScope and Mentor.

Cuts to generic services could have a knock-on effect on substance misuse problems, warns Domino effects, with young people’s services particularly vulnerable as provision often comes via ‘a patchwork of funding streams’ and a perception of them as peripheral to ‘core business’.

While many treatment services for young people have so far been protected from budget restrictions, wider youth services that play an important role in ‘drug prevention, problem identification and sustaining treatment benefits’ are being harder hit, says the report, which draws on interviews with staff members from a range of services across nine local areas.

Ongoing upheaval in the public sector also means that services aimed at young people will need to compete with adult care budgets for funding, the document points out, with many organisations already cutting or reducing specific activities and looking for efficiency gains by reducing posts or sharing staff.

‘Drug use among young people has fallen sharply over the last decade, at the same time as we saw a sustained investment in young people’s services,’ said report author and UKDPC director of policy and research, Nicola Singleton. ‘That investment helped create joined-up services that allowed early intervention before specialist drug services were needed. Now these services are threatened by a combination of financial pressure and the speed and scale of the current public service reforms.’

Many young people who need help for drug or alcohol problems are also experiencing mental health issues, difficulties at home or school or involvement with the criminal justice system, said DrugScope’s director of policy and membership, Marcus Roberts. ‘Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing concerns from DrugScope’s member agencies for some time now about the impact of local spending cuts and structural reforms on young people’s drug and alcohol treatment. This report provides evidence that significant changes in the way that services are planned and commissioned, coupled with severe budgetary pressures, are threatening to undo the progress that has been made in treatment for this group over the past decade.’

Report at www.ukdpc.org.uk