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Young People’s Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS): 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017

The statistics in this report present information collected through the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) about young people under the age of 18 who received specialist substance misuse interventions in England during 2016-17 (that is, between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017).

Specialist substance misuse services saw fewer young people in 2016-17 than in the previous year (16,436, a decrease of 641 or 4% compared to 2015-16). This continues a downward trend, year-on-year, since a peak of 24,053 in 2008-09.

Two-thirds of the young people accessing specialist substance misuse services were male (66%) and half (50%) of all persons were aged 16 or over. Females in treatment had a lower median age (15) than males (16), with 28% of females under the age of 15 compared to 22% of males.

Although the number of younger children (under 14) in treatment is relatively low, it has increased from 1,219 in 2014-15 to 1,342 in 2016-17 (a 10% increase). The recently published schools survey ‘Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England’ indicated an increase in lifetime prevalence of drug use among 11-15 year olds in the latest year (2016). Although these findings are not directly related, they may indicate that the increasing numbers coming into treatment do reflect a change in patterns of use. However, it is too early to draw any firm conclusions and data over a longer period is needed. Any substance misuse among this age group is concerning, as they are likely to be at risk of other harms than alcohol or drug use alone. In these cases, safeguarding needs to be a priority, and wider aspects of the child’s life needs to be addressed, in addition to their substance misuse.

The most common drug that young people presented to treatment with continued to be cannabis. Around 9 out of 10 (88%) of young people in specialist services said they have a problem with this drug compared to 87% in 2015-16. The proportion of young people in treatment reporting cannabis as the primary substance have been on an upward trend since 2005-06, although numbers have decreased slightly in the last 3 years.

Alcohol is the next most commonly cited problematic substance with just under half of the young people in treatment (49%) seeking help for alcohol misuse during 2016-17. However, numbers in treatment for alcohol problems have been declining steadily in recent years and this figure is much lower than the two-thirds (67%) with alcohol problems reported in 2009-10.Alongside cannabis and alcohol, young people in specialist substance misuse services used a range of substances. Of those who were in contact with services, 1,815 cited problematic ecstasy use (11%), 1,473 cocaine use (9%), 491 amphetamine use (3%), and 585 (4%) with concerns around the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS).

The proportion of young people reported by specialist services as having problems with NPS fell by 45% (from 1,056 in 2015-16 to 585 in 2016-17). 2016-17 is the first year since data on NPS use was added to NDTMS that the number of young people in treatment with problematic NPS use has decreased. However, local areas need to ensure that services are accessible and appropriate for young people who are having problems with NPS, so they can be confident that this pattern reflects need.

The most common routes into specialist substance misuse services were from education provision (29%), youth justice services (25%), and children’s social care (15%). The proportion of referrals from the youth justice system has declined in recent years while the proportion of referrals from education provision has increased.

The majority of young people presenting to specialist substance misuse services have other problems or vulnerabilities related to their substance use (such as having mental health problems, being ‘looked after’1 or not being in education, employment or training) or wider factors that can impact on their substance use (such as offending, self-harming, experiencing sexual exploitation or domestic abuse). Of the 17 vulnerability items collected via the NDTMS, 80% of young people who have entered treatment in 2016-17 disclosed 2 or more vulnerabilities. Therefore, specialist services need to work effectively with a range of other agencies to ensure that all the needs of a young person are met.

Following on from the last 2 years, data on sexual exploitation are included in this report. Fourteen per cent (14%) of females presenting to treatment services in 2016-17 reported experience of sexual exploitation (the same proportion as in 2015-16). The proportion of males was much lower at 2% (a change from 1% of males in 2015-16).

Waiting times to gain access to treatment were short. The average (mean) wait for young people to start their first specialist intervention was two days. Almost all (98%) of the 17,445 first interventions starting in 2016-17 had waiting times of 3 weeks or under, with 81% receiving a first intervention on the day they were referred.Of the 10,834 young people leaving services in 2016-17, 82% (8,842) did so in a planned way, no longer requiring specialist interventions. This is a 2% higher treatment completion rate than last year, which suggests that specialist substance misuse services in England are responding well to the needs of young people who have alcohol and drug problems, and are helping young people to overcome their substance misuse problems.