The number of young adults seeking treatment for heroin or crack cocaine use has dropped to its lowest recorded level, according to the latest figures from the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA).
In 2011/12, 4,690 adults aged between 18 and 24 entered treatment for heroin or crack addiction, down from 6,108 the previous year and almost a third of the 12,320 young adults who entered treatment for either drug in 2005/06.
The over-40s is the only age group where numbers entering treatment are still rising. The NTA believes over-40s now make up almost a third of the 197,110 adults who receive specialist drug treatment.
Paul Hayes, chief executive of the NTA, said that the growing number of older users entering treatment reflected an ageing population rather than new heroin and crack users.
“A significant number of people who began using drugs in the 1980s and 1990s whose health is shot to pieces are starting to come into treatment having used drugs for 20 or 30 years,” he said.
“There’s no evidence of swathes of people in their 40s or 50s beginning to use heroin or crack.”
Hayes also said the figures showed that record numbers of drug users in England were successfully completing drug treatment. Nearly 30,000 users successfully completed treatment in 2011-12.
In April 2013 the NTA will be abolished and its drug and alcohol treatment remit will transfer to Public Health England. The budget for substance misuse treatment will be allocated to local authorities.
Hayes said that the levels of investment in drug services over the past 10 years “cannot be guaranteed in the current financial climate”.
He said the move to hand drug and alcohol treatment budgets to local authorities offered potential for improved links with housing and employment services. But he admitted that “squeezed” councils could “disinvest” in support services that “support drug misusers’ long-term recovery”.
Hayes added: “While this recession has not produced the same levels of youth unemployment as the 1980s did, youth unemployment and hopelessness among young people provides fertile territory for the next drugs threat to take over.”
Martin Barnes, chief executive of charity DrugScope, said there was “a strong and compelling case” to invest in drug and alcohol treatment during difficult economic times.
“Despite encouraging trends in declining drug use, drug and alcohol dependency continue to blight the lives of many, with harms and costs for individuals, families and communities.”