Urgent funding needed for young people’s substance services, says RCPsych

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The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) is calling on the government to invest more than £40m in young people’s addiction services to ‘prevent lifelong addiction’.

young people smoke cannabis
Most young people accessing services do so for cannabis use

The number of young people in treatment has fallen by 40 per cent since 2014-15, it says, with funding cut by 37 per cent since 2013-14. 

Eight of the nine English regions have made ‘real terms cuts’, the college’s analysis says, with London losing £4.6m, the West Midlands £7.6m and the North West more than £9m, part of an overall total of £26m cut since 2013-14. Meanwhile the number of young people accessing treatment across the period from April to January has dropped from almost 15,000 in 2014-15 to just under 9,000 in 2020-21, although the college acknowledges this year’s figure could have been worsened by the pandemic. 

Most young people accessing services do so for cannabis use, while almost half have a problem with alcohol – in 2018-19 there were more than 40,000 alcohol-related admissions among the under 24s, over a quarter of which were for mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol use. RCPscyh wants to see £43m of funding for local authorities allocated urgently to ‘bring spending on youth addictions services back to at least the 2013/14 level’ –  equivalent to 2.4 per cent of public health spending. 

‘These cuts risk condemning a generation of vulnerable young people with drug or alcohol problems to a lifetime of dependence and poor health, or in some cases, an early death,’ said vice-chair of RCPsych’s addictions faculty, Dr Emily Finch. ‘It’s completely unsustainable and unbelievably short-sighted. We need to wake up to the fact that money spent on addictions services saves the NHS a whole lot more in the long run, whether that’s in A&E or in other mental health services. On top of all this, the pandemic has made a dire situation even worse, as even more young people have been left unable to access services.’