The NHS and local authorities should pool resources in order to expand specialist alcohol treatment because they will both benefit from the improved health and safety of their communities, according to Paul Hayes, NTA Chief Executive.
He told a Local Government Association conference on the government's Alcohol Strategy that local authorities should seek joint ownership with clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to plan services in the new locally-owned public health system.
The strategy, published in March, highlights the immediate role that effective treatment for dependent drinkers can play in reducing alcohol-related admissions – now over 1 million a year in England - and therefore cutting NHS costs.
Mr Hayes said: "Through local health and wellbeing boards, we should challenge CCGs, the NHS Commissioning Board, and the NHS in general that if they are going to benefit downstream from investment in alcohol treatment, they should be helping local authorities by supporting that investment."
Mr Hayes said the Alcohol Strategy was based on the assumption that there were about 250,000 moderately or severely dependent drinkers in England who need specialist treatment.
Given that 111,000 were already in alcohol treatment last year, and a further 33,000 in drug treatment were being treated for alcohol problems, that left a shortfall of over 100,000 new clients to absorb into the system at a potential extra cost of around £100m.
Mr Hayes acknowledged that local authorities were strapped for cash but warned against assuming that current drug treatment spend could be switched to invest in alcohol treatment instead.
"We won't deliver the Alcohol Strategy by failing to deliver the Drug Strategy. As well as those 100,000 dependent drinkers whose needs are not being met there are 130,000 heroin and crack users out in the community who should be in treatment, but are not," he said.
"To shift money from people in need, because they are addicted to heroin and crack, in order to make treatment more accessible to dependent drinkers, is moving the deck chairs rather than solving the problem."
Although the Alcohol Strategy includes plans to crack down on disorderly behaviour caused by binge-drinking, Mr Hayes warned that the relationship between alcohol and crime was different from that between drugs and crime.
"If you get a heroin user into treatment, their offending halves immediately and that benefit continues while they are in treatment and as they recover. You will not get anything like the same benefit from treating someone successfully for alcohol dependency," he said.
"The drug treatment system is preventing more than 4 million acquisitive crimes a year, a staggering achievement. If anyone were to suggest disinvesting locally, I doubt whether their chief constable or police and crime commissioner would agree."
From April 2013, local authorities will assume responsibility for commissioning both drug and alcohol services, supported from the centre by Public Health England (PHE), taking over key functions of the NTA.
Mr Hayes said it made sense to bring drug and alcohol services together at both local and national level, not least because many of the providers were the same, and many service users have problems with both drink and drugs.
"There is now a real opportunity to get to grips with these issues. Bringing education, prevention and treatment together within the public health system will make it much easier for local authorities to work with CCGs and PHE, and focus together on the range of problems they face," he said.