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45% rise in addicts being treated

8,553 people now getting help for drink and drug problems, figures reveal

By Victoria O'Hara

More than 8,000 people are being treated for alcohol and drug addictions in Northern Ireland - a jump of 45% in two years, new figures have revealed.

The report also shows that more than half are receiving support from charities or voluntary community bodies currently facing cuts in financial support.

A leading doctor has said the latest figures shine a light on the "vital" work they do, adding that the funding must be found to keep them open. The Census of Drug and Alcohol Treatment Services in Northern Ireland showed that the number of people in treatment was 5,916 in 2012, but had risen to 8,553 by September 2014.

More than 60 organisations were involved in the census, with 54% of people who receive treatment receiving it from charities or the voluntary community.

A further breakdown showed that 862 people under 18 are being treated for drugs and alcohol addiction - equating to 524 boys and 338 girls.

Of those in treatment for alcohol and/or drugs, almost three-fifths (57%) were men aged 18 or over, 33% were female aged 18 or over and a tenth were aged under 18 (6% male; 4% female).

Last year the future of the Railway Street addiction centre in Ballymena was thrown into doubt after Justice Minister David Ford announced that funding would be withdrawn for the drugs misuse centre by the end of this month.

This was despite the service being described as a model of best practice in helping injecting drug users.

Dr George O'Neill, a doctor for more than 40 years and chairman of Addiction NI, said the new figures highlight the growing demand for support that is offered by charities.

"Overall 54% of those who receive treatment, receive it from the voluntary communities and charities. These are the very bodies who are under threat from funding cuts.

"The other interesting thing is the majority of the under 18s with alcohol and drug problems are dealt with almost exclusively by the voluntary sector and charities."

Dr O'Neill added the problem of alcohol across Northern Ireland was much bigger. "These are just the people who have come forward for help. It is merely the tip of the iceberg."

The Department of Health previously confirmed that alcohol misuse cost Northern Ireland up to £900 million every year - including £30m spent on emergency department attendances.

Addiction NI provides support and treatment for people affected by alcohol or drug addiction.

It can be contacted on 028 9066 4434.

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