Experts are warning a 22 per cent funding cut for drug and alcohol rehabilitation could see deaths rise and a massive increase in the costs to society.

Alcohol and Drug Partnerships (ADPs) have been told by the Scottish Government that direct funding for their work will fall from £69.2 million to £53.8 million this year.

However, Health Secretary Shona Robison also told them in a letter that NHS boards would be expected to make up the £15 million deficit from their increased budgets.

It is unclear whether the health boards, many of which are currently struggling to cut tens of millions of pounds from their budgets, will honour this and insiders warn the move could have catastrophic effects.

Scottish Drugs Forum chief executive David Liddell, whose members depend on the funding, said ADPs and the wider drugs rehabilitation sector had "real concerns" over the negotiations on local 2016/17 spending.

He added: “The fear is that these negotiations will lead to reductions in [overall] funding for frontline services aimed at some of the most vulnerable people in society. This has the potential to increase harm and drug-related deaths.

“Our biggest concern is, of course, with the human consequences, but there is also the very strong argument that cuts to frontline services will lead to a major increase in costs elsewhere – through increased infections, increased hospital admissions, increased crime and criminal justice costs."

Peter Hunter, committee member of Rise recovery community, based in Govan, Glasgow, said any cuts would have potentially devastating effects on people struggling with addiction in the city, where services are already badly oversubscribed.

"This is a triple whammy of national cuts, local cuts and recommissioning, all of which will arrive at the same time," he said. "Each of these three threatens lives if services are cut”

"When I speak to the many people I come across from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and ask them if they have a few million spare to shore up drug and alcohol treatment as suggested by the Scottish Government all you get is a hollow laugh in reply."

It came as community safety minister Paul Wheelhouse launched a new Partnership for Action on Drugs in Scotland (PADS), to reduce problem drug use and replace the seven year old Drugs Strategy Delivery Commission.

Ms Robison has written to ADP chiefs to say that Scottish Government wanted all drug and alcohol treatment services to fall under health to improve consistency and standards. It is understood that she has also written to health board executives.

She said the direct funding cut would be offset by an increase in funding to health boards. "We would expect a total of £15 million to also go towards supporting these efforts and maintain the overall spending on addressing alcohol and substance misuse," she said.

Scottish Drugs Forum said discussions were taking place across the country with health boards to find out what funding would be available from April this year and whether they are in a position to meet the government stated expectations, and said the letters had caused confusion.

ADP chairs and health board chairs were expected to meet with Government officials on Monday to seek reassurances.

Concerns are compounded in Glasgow where combined contracts for drug and alcohol services provided by charities are to be put out to tender. Experts estimate the overall value of these services at £3.5 million currently, but the sum on offer for the work has been cut to £2million.

A government spokesman said: “There will be no cut in funding for ADPs.

“We’ve told health boards that we will be directly providing £53.8 million in 2016/17 to deliver drug and alcohol treatment services; and that we expect boards to supplement this resource from their increased baseline draft budgets to ensure that overall spending on supporting the treatment of alcohol and substance misuse is maintained."

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said a review of community rehabilitation services had found that some providers were dealing with fewer clients than had been agreed and that there was scope to improve services.

He added: "It was also  found there needed to be much greater focus on the recovery of those affected by addictions and that services could be simplified and strengthened by being aligned more closely with other services in the three administrative areas of the city.
“In the current financial climate we have to take every opportunity to ensure services are as efficient and effective as possible.
“The new arrangements represent a complete redesign of service and aim to ensure more people can access support for their addictions.
“The capacity for community-based, peer support has also grown significantly since the previous tender exercise in 2005 and we believe this will play a vital role in helping people towards recovery in future.”