Spending on residential rehabilitation services for drug and alcohol addicts in England has been slashed by nearly a quarter over the past four years, The Independent can reveal.
New figures show that eight local councils have had to reduce budgets for the service by more than half since 2013.
Experts say this is depriving vulnerable people of “vital” services, with sometimes fatal consequences.
Figures obtained through Freedom of Information(FOI) requests show that the 39 councils which responded will spend £9.76m of their grant on residential detoxification in 2017/18.
That compares with £12.92m that was spent four years ago, representing a cut of more than £3m – and a 24 per cent reduction.
The findings come after The Independent revealed local councils have had to reduce drug and alcohol support budgets by tens of millions of pounds in four years, creating what experts described as a “vicious cycle” that is leaving the needs of seriously vulnerable addicts unmet.
Drug-related deaths across England and Wales hit a record high this year, with official figures showing that 3,744 people were fatally poisoned by drugs in 2016 – 70 more than the previous year and the highest number since comparable statistics began in 1993.
Hospitals are seeing more than one million admissions relating to alcohol each year.
A review published by Public Health England last year reported that alcohol is now the “leading risk factor for ill-health, early mortality and disability” among 15 to 49-year-olds.
While the amount provided to local authorities by the Department of Health from the Public Health Grant has risen from £2.66bn four years ago to £3.30bn this year, there has been a transfer of new responsibilities to councils during this period, equating to a real-terms cut to budgets.
This is largely due to the relatively high costs of residential rehab. Many local authorities have operated a funding panel to review individual cases against their criteria for residential placements, which experts said has led to the threshold becoming much higher for addicts to access the service.
Chula Goonewardene, operations manager at Steps2Recovery (a charity providing residential rehab), said cuts to funding to have meant there is a large gap that charities like his have had to fill.
“In terms of long-term recovery, for many people residential rehab is vital, especially for people with very deep, underlying and unresolved trauma, which is the case for the majority of people with chronic addiction issues,” he said.
“I saw this when I was working in the statutory sector. The Government started cutting the money and saying they want people to use community services and get better that way, saying they would invest in improving community programmes and reduce the number of people being sent to funded rehab.”
Mr Goonewardene, who used to work with drug addicts in the community, said that as funds have decreased, the threshold has risen, meaning fewer people have been able to access the service.
“Residential rehab should be offered to everyone with a serious addiction, but as the funding has become more restricted, the recovery practitioners have had to stop offering it out,” he said.
“Many people get stuck in their addicted lifestyles in the community, and the only way they can achieve into long-term recovery is if that pattern is broken, which can really only be done through residential rehab.
“That’s not to say it’s an absolute solution for everybody, but it definitely increases your chances of long-term recovery, without a doubt. It has been proven that having that safe contained space is crucial in order to become completely detoxed from all drugs
“Iin the statutory service between 2005 and 2016, I saw plenty of people who wanted to go to rehab but didn’t meet the threshold, and they just stayed stuck in their addiction.”
The data shows that Solihull in the West Midlands has seen the biggest cut in residential rehab budgets: 90 per cent in four years, from £50,000 to £5,000.
The Wirral had its budget cut by 82 per cent, down from £517,544 to £90,955, while Richmond Upon Thames slashed its budget by 66 per cent, from £586,410 to £200,000.
Manchester, a city currently gripped by a spice epidemic, has also seen a significant reduction, having cut its budget by 37 per cent (£505,487).
Rehabilitation and detoxification provider UK Addiction Treatment (UKAT), which obtained the figures, said there should be “no shortcuts” in the recovery of addicts, urging that the slashed budgets threaten the lives of some of society’s “most vulnerable”.
Eytan Alexander, founder of UKAT, said: “Nobody with a serious dependency on drugs or alcohol should ever be left to go ‘cold turkey’ at home. The dangers must surely outweigh the desire to save money. Recovery is a journey – there are no shortcuts.
“Slashing budgets threatens not only the health, but also the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society. It’s false economy transferring the burden onto an already stretched NHS, which is facing a winter crisis.”
The news comes as the Labour Party pledged to invest in addiction treatment and prevention at its annual conference in Brighton.
Responding to the findings, Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “This new research confirms our recent warnings and is driven by wider Tory cuts to our public health services.
“These cuts to services supporting people with addiction issues betray those people and their families who need help now, and will cost society and the state more in the long run.
“As I made clear at the Labour Conference last week, treating those with addiction issues will be a huge priority for our public health services under a Labour Government.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Local authorities are best placed to make choices for their community, which is why we will invest more than £16bn in local government public health services in the current spending period.
“We have a strong track record on public health and figures show that outcomes of drug and alcohol treatment remain stable.
“But we are not complacent, which is why the government recently introduced a comprehensive Drugs Strategy to protect the most vulnerable, tackle the illicit trade and help those with drug dependency to turn their lives around.”
For support with drug and alcohol issues, visit UKAT’s website or call 0808 250 3801.
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