Fewer children and teenagers are getting specialist help for substance misuse as the age of those starting treatments for drug addiction rises, new figures reveal.

Statistics from Public Health England suggest the UK’s heroin users are getting older with many of those needing to access drug treatment programmes being over the age of 40. The official figures show 48% of those receiving specialist support for substance misuse are aged 40 or over and 68% of those receiving treatment for alcoholism are in this age group.

In contrast, the number of under-18s getting help has fallen. In 2014-15 18,349 children and young people accessed substance misuse services, which was 777 fewer than the previous year. The number of under-18s receiving treatment has been gradually falling since 2008-9 when the number peaked at 24,053.

This overall decrease may indicate that fewer young people are taking drugs and developing an addiction. The under-18s who do access specialist substance misuse support usually have other issues too including mental health problems, unemployment or a history of sexual abuse or exploitation.

The good news revealed by the statistics was that once people had asked for help with substance misuse, they had been given specialist support quickly. More than 97% of adults and 98% of young people had started treatment within three weeks.

Vulnerable people need help to recover

Rosanna O’Connor, Public Health England’s Director of Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco, said: “It is clear that while substance misuse treatment is working well for many, there is a need for increasingly specialist approaches to support a range of complex needs, especially among the more vulnerable in our communities.

“It’s vital that local authorities continue to invest so those in need of help are supported on the road to recovery, giving them the best possible chance of living a better, healthier life. Public Health England continues to support local areas in delivering effective tailored services, which increasingly need to meet the needs of older drug users and younger people for whom drug use is just one of many problems.”

The statistics revealed that 295,224 adults used specialist substance misuse treatment services in 2014-15 and 152,964 of those were abusing opiates including heroin.

Substance misuse programmes can be highly effective in helping people move on from their addictions and adopt a healthier lifestyle. But drug users often hide their habits so others are unaware of the scale of their problem.

Drug testing services can help friends and family as well as employers and other organisations find out the scale of a substance misuse problem so they can make sure the affected person gets the specialist help they need.