Number treated for addiction issues up 13% in just two years
The number of people in Northern Ireland seeking treatment for drugs and alcohol misuse has increased by 13% in two years.
New figures from the Department of Health show that 6,743 people were reported to be in treatment for misuse of alcohol and/or drugs this year.
According to the Census of Drug and Alcohol Treatment Services in Northern Ireland, this is up from 5,969 clients in 2017.
The bulletin presents information on the numbers in treatment on April 30 this year.
Of these, just 38% were in treatment for alcohol only, 33% were treated for drugs only, while 29% were in treatment for both.
The number of men in treatment has remained at around 66%, with the majority of clients (6,123) aged 18 and over.
Over two-thirds of clients aged under 18 were in treatment for both drugs and alcohol compared with one quarter of clients aged 18 and over.
The majority of clients (95%) were being treated in a non-residential setting.
Almost three-fifths received treatment through statutory organisations, with 38% receiving treatment through non-statutory organisations, and 3% were treated in prison.
The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust accounted for the highest proportion of clients in treatment in Northern Ireland (29.3%).
Alex Bunting, the director of Addiction NI, which provides treatment and support to people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs, said his organisation has seen a significant increase in demand for services in the past year, even with increased capacity for treatment and support.
He said: "The impact of alcohol and drugs continues to be felt by many individuals, families and communities across the region, with increasing complexity including co-occurring mental health problems, poly-substance misuse and more chaotic risk-taking drug use behaviours.
"The profile of drug use in the census would be representative of the presenting drug issues we experience, with alcohol still the most prevalent drug of misuse followed by problematic use of prescription and illicit drugs. We look forward to the development of a new drug strategy to help co-ordinate and target services to address the growing needs of the region, whilst also trying to motivate and mobilise people to take collective responsibility to address the issue of substance misuse and addiction."
Ulster Unionist mental health spokesperson Robbie Butler MLA warned that without a change in direction, or an Executive in place to implement changes, Northern Ireland's growing problem with addiction will only continue to get worse.
He added: "We can no longer continue to do the same thing and hope for a different outcome. We need to invest more in specialist addiction services, more early-intervention measures and more front-line support."
SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan MLA said it is "glaringly obvious that more must be done to help both individuals suffering with addiction and to educate young people on the very real dangers of drug and alcohol misuse".