1,500 people treated for drug and alcohol issues in Northumberland, figures reveal

More than 1,500 people in Northumberland were in treatment for drug and alcohol issues at the end of last year.

Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 2:39 pm
Updated Sunday, 8th December 2019, 2:43 am
File picture of drugs paraphernalia
File picture of drugs paraphernalia

At the end of 2018, there were 473 people in treatment in the county for an alcohol use disorder, with 59% being aged 40 to 59, while 1,048 people were in treatment for a drug use disorder; of who 70% were male.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, particularly in relation to drink, as up to 82% of people who are potentially dependent on alcohol do not access treatment.

What’s more, the demand is continuing to grow in the county, which means increasing costs, coupled with ongoing uncertainty about the future of the public health ring-fenced grant, which is currently the sole source of public funding for specialist substance misuse services.

Over the last 12 months, there has been a 25% increase in referrals for alcohol and 19% for drugs.

Northumberland currently receives just under £3.5million for drug and alcohol misuse, which is divided between seven organisations and schemes, including the Northumberland Recovery Partnership (£2.7million) and SORTED, which supports young people (£315,000).

These facts and figures come from a report on tackling substance misuse, which was presented to Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee on Tuesday December 3.

It was intended to provide an update on the work undertaken during 2019-20 to reduce the harm caused by substance misuse – both drugs and alcohol.

However, the meeting ended up featuring a wide-ranging debate and series of questions, including issues well outside the remit of the county council, such as overall drugs policy, how strictly or otherwise drug laws are enforced and minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol.

Coun Trevor Cessford was interested to see that the initial evidence on the introduction of MUP in Scotland was that while alcohol purchases have decreased, this is only in those households that purchased the most alcohol.

The report to councillors added: ‘It has been estimated that 6.8% of Northumberland’s population drinks 38% of the alcohol consumed here and 49% of this alcohol is below 50p per unit.

‘If a national 50p minimum unit price (MUP) was applied in Northumberland, the NHS would save an estimated £781,496 per year, alcohol-related hospital admissions would fall by 296 per year and 204 deaths would be avoided (over 20 years).

‘There would be 323 fewer crimes committed per year, the off-trade would see a substantial increase in revenue and the on-trade would see little change.’

A line in the report on a recent 500% increase in the cost of buprenorphine, a medication used to treat some users of heroin and other opioids, was also picked up by councillors.

Coun Ian Hutchinson described it as ‘ridiculous’ and noted that the pharmaceutical companies were almost acting in the same way as county lines drugs gangs by coming in at a low price before hiking the prices.