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New data depicts a complex picture of substance misuse in Wales

Published: 30 November 2022

New data from Public Health Wales depicts a complex picture of substance misuse in Wales, resulting in increased hospital admissions for alcohol-specific conditions and increased mortality from both problematic alcohol consumption and illicit drug use.

The Data Mining Wales: Annual Profile of Substance Misuse report found that compared to 2019-20, hospital admissions for alcohol-specific conditions increased by 5.5 per cent, while admissions for illicit drug use decreased 12.8 per cent. Mirroring recent trends, around twice as many people were admitted to hospital for alcohol-specific conditions than for illicit drug use.

The data adds to the already comprehensive evidence which demonstrates a clear relationship between substance misuse and social deprivation. 

The proportion of patients admitted to hospital for alcohol-specific conditions was 3.2 times higher for those living in the most-deprived areas compared to the least deprived. The figure for hospital admissions related to illicit drug use is even more stark, with 5.9 times as many people admitted to hospital from the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived. 

Levels of relative deprivation are also reflected in mortality figures for alcohol and illicit drug use, with those in the most deprived areas disproportionally more likely to pass away because of substance misuse. 

The 5.5 per cent increase in hospitalisations due to alcohol-specific conditions further highlights observations made during the Covid-19 pandemic, where various population health surveys reported increased levels of alcohol consumption amongst the heaviest drinkers. 

Other findings from the profile include: 

  • Hospital admissions for young people under the age of 25 for an alcohol-specific condition reduced by 9.6 per cent while admissions from illicit drug use reduced by 5.9 per cent in 2021-22. 
  • The 35-49 year old age group accounts for nearly 50 per cent of all drug misuse deaths registered in 2021-22  
  • In the 35-49 year old age group, opioids account for nearly 40 per cent of hospital admissions for illicit drugs. 
  • Individuals aged 50 and over accounted for 51.3 per cent of all those admitted for alcohol-specific conditions in 2021-22, and  25.3 per cent of all those admitted to hospital in 2021-22 following illicit drug use. 

Data Mining Wales: The Annual Profile for Substance Misuse 2021-22 uses data from a variety of sources including: Digital Health and Care Wales, Harm Reduction Database (HRD) Wales, Welsh National Database for Substance Misuse (WNDSM), Office for National Statistics (ONS), Local Authority Education services and Home Office data. This report is intended for use alongside the Welsh Government Substance Misuse report on treatment data for the same period to provide a complete profile on the scale and nature of substance misuse, both drugs and alcohol, in Wales.