The National Treatment Agency (NTA) have produced their annual review of specialist services for young people and report that the numbers accessing treatment have fallen for the third year in a row.
The NTA say that they believe that this fall is a genuine fall in demand which if true is very welcome indeed.
My sense is that while there are some reasons to believe that this may be the case we really don’t have enough information to be sure.
On the side of there having been a reduction in demand for drug services is the consistent falls in drug and alcohol use by young people and young adults. With the significant falls in prevalence we might reasonably expect the numbers going on to need treatment to also fall.
But, it seems just as likely that the changes in general population prevalence levels are taken from those who were least likely to need specialist services.
It is also worth thinking about whether budget pressures – central government’s budget for young people’s services has been flat for the last few years – and changes to what services are being measured to provide may be responsible for where we are today. As I understand it under the last government drug services were judged on the number of people entering treatment until the terms of the debate changed and the focus switched to the numbers leaving treatment having completed it successfully.
Also worth noting is the costs. Research for the Department for Education suggests that in 2008-09 the cost of substance misuse services for young people was £62.2m. Next year the Department report that councils expect to spend £36.8m.
What I can’t tell is whether this is comparing like for like, so the reduction may be less than this implies, but there is little doubt that these budgets are falling, as I pointed out a few weeks ago next year’s figure is a fall of 16% on this year.