Express & Star

Drink and drug addiction service funding shortfall plugged

A service helping people addicted to alcohol and drugs in Sandwell has had to be bailed out after the cost of medication rocketed by almost 500 per cent.

Sandwell Council House

Around 4,000 people are dealing with alcohol addiction in the borough while 2,000 people are receiving support with drug problems.

Now Sandwell councillors have backed a £45,000 cash boost for the Cranstoun alcohol and drug rehabilitation service.

It came after the price of the drug treatment buprenorphine, known under its brand name Subutex, for treating opioid addiction, shot up from £2.38 to £13.70 during 2018.

But the move came as a Freedom of Information request revealed Sandwell Council has slashed its budget of tackling addiction by almost a third since 2013.

A meeting of Sandwell Council's cabinet was told the money was needed to offset a total overspend £95,424.

Councillor Farut Shaeen, cabinet member for living healthy lives, said the council was responsible for commissioning support for drug addition.

She added: “An important part of the this treatment is the use of medicine to support the withdrawal of illegal and harmful drugs.

“In Sandwell we have worked to minimise the extra cost by changing the type of medication used where appropriate.”

She added: “The extra cost of medication represents only a small percentage of the overall service cost however it is important that we maintain the quality off this crucial service.”

A council report showed the bill for seven 8mg buprenorphine tablets now stands at £18.23 with no sign of falling in the future

Earlier this month, Sandwell Council revealed it had cut its funding on drug and alcohol misuse service from £4,256,000 in 2013 to an estimated £3,021,100 in 2019.

Data from Public Health England estimates that last year Sandwell had 4,284 alcohol dependent drinkers and 2,047 opiate crack users, of which 1,609 were helped by the rehabilitation service.

During 2016 to 2018, there were 11 deaths from drug misuse in the borough – a figure health officials stress is significantly lower than the average for the West Midlands and nationally.

Lisa McNally, director of Public Health for Sandwell, has defended the council’s work with drug addicts, saying: “Our public health team works closely with local treatment providers to ensure people receive the support and medication they need, in line with our legal responsibilities as part of the NHS.

“Buprenorphine is a proven and effective treatment – similar to methadone – and one of the medications used in the treatment of injecting drug users that reduces harm from drugs and helps people recover.

“The additional funding agreed by cabinet is due to a significant and unexpected rise in the price of buprenorphine nationally – this price rise was the result of a national shortage following some production and distribution issues and affects local authorities nationwide, not just Sandwell.”

“Our drug-related death rate – which remains statistically significantly lower than regional and national levels – is testament to the work of the council and local partners in managing the situation and we continue to work together to provide support to those who need it.”

Sandwell Council said last year 178 people were prescribed buprenorphine while 69 are still using the medication.