Drastic fall in numbers receiving drug and alcohol support during Covid in NI

Figures released today by the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database reveal that during 2020/21, far fewer people needing treatment for drug and alcohol misuse actually got the vital help they need.

The report, analysed by the UK Addiction Treatment Group, shows that during the Covid-19 pandemic, just 2,920 people in Northern Ireland presented to services for substance misuse. This is a 30% fall from 4,264 people accessing help back in 2019/20.

More than one-third of clients presented to services indicating problem drug use only (36.0%, 1,052); a similar proportion presented indicating problem alcohol use only (35.9%, 1,047); 28.1% of clients presented to services indicating both drug and alcohol misuse (821 clients).

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The majority of clients were male but worryingly, more than two-fifths of all clients presenting to treatment for alcoholism were female (44.9%).

Pictured Nuno Albuquerque, Consultant Treatment Lead for the UK Addiction Treatment Group.

Around two-fifths of clients in Northern Ireland presenting to treatment were aged 26-39 years.

The most commonly used drug used by clients in treatment services was Cannabis, with a staggering 61% reported as using it.

This was followed by Cocaine (42.4%), and GP-prescribed drugs Benzodiazepines (23.4%) and Pregabalin (15.7%), proving that drugs don’t have to be bought on the streets for them to be addictive.

Furthermore, the report also reveals that 1 in 10 people who accessed drug and alcohol treatment services in 2020/21 also took at least one prescription drug.

The Western HSC Trust and the Belfast HSC Trust treated the highest number of clients during the pandemic for substance misuse (584 and 528 respectively).

Nuno Albuquerque, Consultant Treatment Lead at the UK Addiction Treatment Group comments: “Unfortunately what these figures show is that the Covid-19 pandemic once again pushed every other critical health issue to the side. Just because fewer people in Northern Ireland accessed treatment services doesn’t mean that fewer people needed to access treatment services. The opposite is in fact more likely.

“Unfortunately, some drug and alcohol treatment services in Northern Ireland will have chosen to close their doors during the pandemic, making it extremely difficult for people to get access to the help they need. We will undoubtedly see the deadly fall-out from this in the very near future.”

The UK Addiction Treatment Group provides 24/7 confidential and free information on substance misuse.

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