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Fewer young people develop drug and alcohol problems

The number of young people in England who need help for drug or alcohol use has fallen for the third year running, according to the latest statistics released today by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. The number treated for Class A drugs such as heroin, cocaine or ecstasy has reduced by more than two thirds from five years ago, to 631 from a peak of 1,979 (in 2006-7).

The figures show that specialist services are intervening quickly and effectively: in 2011-12 the average wait for a young person to start getting help was just two days. Overall the figures suggest that young people are increasingly turning away from the most problematic drugs, and that for the few highly vulnerable young people who do need help with those, services are well equipped to provide a range of support. As resources are tightened, services should ensure that support continues to be available to young people, and that they are ready to respond to emerging need.

The national statistics and trends are analysed in an NTA report, Substance Misuse among Young People 2011-12.  Key findings include:

  • The overall number of young people accessing specialist substance misuse services has fallen for the third year running, to 20,688 from a peak of 24,053 in 2008-9.
  • Very few are treated for Class A drugs such as heroin, cocaine or ecstasy, and the number has again reduced since last year from 770 (in 2010-11) to 631 in 2011-12. This compares to 1,979 five years ago.
  • The vast majority of under-18s (92%) receive support for primary problems with cannabis or alcohol.  The numbers seeing specialist services for alcohol dropped again, from 7,054 last year to 5,884 this year.
  • The proportion of under-18s who left specialist services having successfully completed their programme rose to 77% in 2011-12 from 50% five years ago.
  • The number of  cases seen by specialist services for primary cannabis use was up from 12,784 in 2010-11 to 13,200 this year. As evidence suggests that overall young people’s cannabis use is declining, the rise in numbers seeing specialist services could be down to a combination of stronger strains of the drug causing more harm, greater awareness of the issues surrounding cannabis, and specialist services being more alert and responsive to the problems the drug can cause for under-18s.

Rosanna O’Connor, NTA Director of Delivery, said: “Any substance misuse among young people is a cause for concern. The signs that fewer need help, and that a higher proportion are successfully completing their programme of support, is encouraging.

“In the current climate of increased pressure on local authority funding, these figures give a clear message that any disinvestment in young people’s drug and alcohol programmes will be detrimental. All young people’s services need to continue to work together, to give vulnerable young people the best possible chance of overcoming problems before they become entrenched.

“The numbers needing specialist interventions remain low and evidence shows that fewer young people are using drugs. However the advent of new substances and risks of ongoing cannabis and alcohol use in particular present a significant challenge. The positive news is that services are well placed to meet a range of problems, and that for those young people who do need help, it’s readily available and effective.”


The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) is a National Health Service (NHS) special health authority which aims to improve the availability, capacity and effectiveness of drug treatment in England.  From April 2013, the NTA’s core function will transfer to Public Health England, and the NTA will cease to exist as a separate organisation.

The NTA report Substance Misuse among Young People 2011-12 is available here and the statistical report and tables are available here or email miranda.askew@nta-nhs.org.uk

For further information please contact the NTA press office on 020 7972 1921/ 1922 or out of hours call 07795 036460.

For anyone worried about drugs, FRANK provides a friendly, confidential and non-judgemental service to those wanting help, information or advice. FRANK is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and we would encourage media to provide a link to FRANK’s website with any coverage:  www.talktofrank.com

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