Drug-related mental health admissions in NHS hit record high

The annual number of hospital admissions in England with a diagnosis of a drug-related mental or behavioural disorder has reached an all-time high, figures show.

There were 82,135 hospital admissions in the year to April 2017 with a primary or secondary diagnosis of drug-related mental and behavioural disorders, according to the NHS figures. That compares with 81,904 over the same period a year earlier and 38,170 in 2006-07.

However, the number of admissions with a primary diagnosis of drug-related mental and behavioural disorders was down 12% on the previous year, to 7,545.

The number of admissions with a diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs fell 7% on the previous year, to 14,053, though this was 40% higher than a decade earlier.

Many of the mental and behavioural disorders included in the statistics will have been caused by cannabis or amphetamines, said Ian Hamilton, a former mental health nurse who now researches substance use and mental health at the University of York.

“Think of the name of a drug and add psychosis on the end,” he said. “Amphetamine psychosis and cannabis psychosis are the main ones on the acute wards.”

He said increased awareness of such drug-related illnesses could not on its own explain the rises registered in the past decade. New trends in drug use, such as synthetic cannabinoids and other novel psychoactive substances, and lately the sudden popularity of the prescription benzodiazepine Xanax, are likely to have had an impact.

Diagnoses were limited by the methodology, which relied on urine tests where patients were coy about what drugs they had been using, Hamilton said.

“Those toxicology screens are crude to say the least,” he said. “Most of it is urinalysis. It will give you a yes or no. It may give you a cannabinoid but it won’t tell you what that is.”

Such testing could skew the figures around a particular drug. “If you use cocaine today and you get admitted tomorrow it’s gone out of your system, whereas if you used cannabis on Christmas Day it’s going to still be in your system.”

North-west England had the highest rate of admissions for both drug-related mental or behavioural disorders and drug poisonings, at 225 and 40 per 100,000 population respectively.

Among local authorities, Blackpool borough council had by far the highest rate of admissions for drug poisoning, with 104 per 100,000 population.


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