FUNDING to protect people from drugs and alcohol abuse is being slashed by nearly £500,000 this year, it has emerged.

Worcestershire County Council is having to defend criticism it is "taking risks" with vulnerable people by looking to save money.

Taxpayers currently fork out £4.79 million a year on services to help wean people off deadly drugs and alcohol abuse.

It will be cut £493,000 to £4.3 million in April due to huge pressure on the council's budget, with around £25 million needing to be saved over the next year.

At the moment, the council manages the service by having several contracts with outside agencies which help tackle addiction, but is offering the entire budget to just one from the spring.

It says the money can be saved by offering that cheaper, single contract, with an emphasis on pay-by-results and what it calls 'penalty clauses' for poor performance.

But the tactic has led to claims efforts to save money are taking priority over the service.

The new contract has gone to Rugby-based Swanswell Charitable Trust, which has got what the council calls a "payment by results" deal.

Councillor Graham Vickery, Labour's health spokesman for Worcestershire, said the council is "putting its head in the sand" and "failing to consider the consequences".

"The availability and misuse of drugs and alcohol is a Worcestershire problem that is not going to go away - and clearly not if we stop trying to take action to address the problem," he said.

"Children are at great risk of exposure to dangers to their health, and those who are already trapped in addiction need counselling and treatment to get out of their predicament.

"Drug addiction damages not only the users but contributes to domestic violence and leads to children being placed in care.

"These consequences cost the public far more than prevention and cure strategies, involving police, courts and the NHS.

"It is at these times of austerity that many who cannot cope turn to drugs and alcohol."

Councillor Marcus Hart, cabinet member for health, said: "Alcohol is one of the four priorities of the health and well-being strategy and the council is very active in this service area.

"We have recently re-commissioned drugs and alcohol services following a full needs assessment leading to a revised model of care.

"We have every confidence our incoming provider will be able to deliver the new model of care at this level of funding and lead to improvements in this service."

The new contract has gone to Rugby-based Swanswell Charitable Trust, which has got what the council calls a “payment by results” deal.