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Working together: Helping to support and transform the lives of people affected by drug and alcohol problems

Case studies

Drinking and drug problems remain, sadly, all too common. While alcohol consumption is falling, too many adults still regularly consume more than they should.

It means alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15 to 49-year-olds and the fifth biggest for all age groups.

Add to that the burden of drug use – more than 300,000 are struggling with crack cocaine and heroin addictions – and the cost of substance misuse is huge.

Estimates suggest that the social and economic impact of alcohol-related harm amounts to £21.5 billion, while harm from illicit drug use costs £10.7 billion.

These include costs associated with deaths, the NHS, crime and in the case of alcohol, lost productivity.

Whilst illegal drug use can affect any section of the community, there is a strong correlation between economic disadvantage or deprivation and the development of more serious drug problems.

Many adult problem drug users have long histories of substance misuse which often starts before the age of 18. Research suggests that those most susceptible to developing problematic substance misuse problems are from ‘vulnerable groups’ such as children in care, persistent absentees or excludees from school, young offenders, the homeless and children affected by parental substance misuse. So providing well-funded, targeted and effective substance misuse services is vital.

It is the responsibility of local government to commission these and in the process, help prevent abuse in the first place and enable people to beat addiction and sustain their recovery.

But the causes of substance misuse and the solutions for tackling it are multi-factorial. It requires close working with partners, imagination and hard work. However, when we get it right it can have a tremendous impact. As the case studies in this report show, lives are being turned around.

Not only is substance misuse being treated, but vulnerable people are being given another chance to find work, rebuild relationships, improve their health and secure safe accommodation.

The economic argument speaks for itself. For every £1 spent on drug treatment, there is a social return of £4. For every £1 spent alcohol, it is £3. That means these services are helping to save society more than £2 billion every year.

But more must be done. Only a fifth of dependent drinkers are currently accessing treatment, while the success rates of drug services vary five-fold from place to place.

What is more, new threats are emerging all the time – one only needs to look at the problems related to psychoactive substances to see that. We must not be complacent. Councils know more needs to be done in close collaboration with partners locally to ensure everyone gets the support they need wherever possible.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth Chairman, LGA Community Wellbeing Board