The latest post at www.russellwebster.com examines data published by Public Health England from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System. This information quantifies the number of young problem drug and alcohol users in contact with specialist treatment agencies and general practitioners between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2016.
The headline that specialist substance misuse services saw fewer young people in 2015-16 than in the previous year is, at face value, a great piece of news but as Russell rightly points out; “It’s always hard to draw firm conclusions from these annual reports…”
Isn’t that always the case with government reports laden with statistics, especially those that are used to quantify and/or justify funding of our public services? Services which too often are provided (or not) on the basis of political agenda, as opposed to social need? Irrespective of the many adages about statistics and lies…”There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” (Mark Twain).
- Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable – Mark Twain
- He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts – for support rather than for illumination – Andrew Lang
- Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions. – Evan Esar
As Russell rightly points out, many people (not just the young), can and do use high levels of drugs and/or alcohol without ever perceiving their use as problematic. Why seek help from services “if I ain’t got a problem”? In conclusion Russell says;
It certainly seems that the continued reduction of young people in the youth justice system has naturally led to a fall in referrals from this sector and is at least one of the reasons for the overall drop in the numbers of young people in treatment. (@russwebt)
Yes, there appears to be a continued downward trend however; could reductions in funding and services also be impacting upon the overall results being reported? I would suggest, from pragmatic personal observations, there is no room for complacency in treatment services or indeed the government and holders of politically influenced funding purse strings.