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THE DRUG PROBLEM IN THE United Kingdom AT A GLANCE
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

The latest UK drug trends

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Latest EMCDDA report found that public expenditure on drug-related issues is 0.5% of our GDP.

EMCDDA 2019 UK Country Report

Last week (6 June 2019), the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published its annual report on drugs in Europe which I summarised here. Today, I look at the the UK specific findings presented in the latest EMCDDA Country Drug Report for the UK.

Overview

The report presents the top-level overview of the drug phenomenon in the United Kingdom, covering drug supply, use and public health problems as well as drug policy and responses. The statistical data reported relate to 2017 and so is not as up-to-date on some issues as national publications.

Nevertheless, the report is an excellent primer on drug issues in the UK covering:

  • Drug strategy & co-ordination
  • Public expenditure
  • Drug use, drug-related infectious diseases, drug-related emergencies and drug-related deaths
  • Drug laws & offences
  • Drug prevention, harm reduction and treatment including a separate section on drugs in prison.
  • Drug markets

In this blog post, I pick out a number of key facts which I hope will be of interest to readers.

1: Public expenditure

The latest estimate (pre-austerity) suggests that the amount of public expenditure  on drug-related issues is approximately 0.5% of our Gross Domestic Product with two thirds of this spent on tackling the supply of drugs and on third on demand reduction.

2: Injecting concerns

There are concerns about changes in the patterns of drug injection in the United Kingdom, in particular the increased injection of crack cocaine and amphetamine-type stimulants, and the emergence in recent years of the injection of NPS. Data from the 2017 Unlinked Anonymous Monitoring survey of people who inject drugs indicate that the injection of crack has increased in recent years in England and Wales, with 51 % of those who had injected during the preceding 4 weeks reporting the injection of crack cocaine.

3: Drug-induced deaths

In 2016, the United Kingdom reported a record number of drug-related deaths, continuing the increasing trend since 2012. Males accounted for two thirds of drug-related deaths in 2016, and the mean age at time of death was 42 years. The average age of those dying has risen every year since 2006. Because of delays in the registration of deaths, the total number of drug-induced deaths in 2017 in the United Kingdom is not yet known, but data published on the number of deaths registered in Scotland in 2017 suggest that a further increase in the UK total can be expected.

4: Drug treatment

Around 238 000 clients received drug treatment in England and Wales in 2017. Approximately half of them entered treatment during 2017, one third of whom had never been treated previously. Under half of all clients entering treatment in 2017 were primary opioid users, mainly heroin users. Cannabis was the most frequently reported primary drug among first-time treatment entrants; the increasing trend for the proportion of clients that were primary cannabis users stopped in 2015. A notable increase in the number and proportion of primary cocaine clients, including first-time treatment entrants, has been reported since 2014. Cocaine clients may use powder and, to a lesser extent, crack cocaine. More than half of heroin treatment entrants also use crack cocaine; this pattern of use has been increasing since 2003/04.

5: Drug importation routes

The identified drug supply chains to the United Kingdom, on the whole, follow well-established trafficking routes. Heroin originates from Afghanistan and is most commonly brought in via either Pakistan or Iran, or more recently through Ukraine.

The Netherlands and Belgium are the main transit hubs within Europe for cocaine en route to the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the Netherlands and Belgium are the most significant sources of established synthetic stimulant drugs, such as MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamine and methamphetamine, while most non-retail quantities of new psychoactive substances bought online originate from China.

South and West Africa and the Caribbean are the main sources of imported herbal cannabis, while cannabis resin originates mainly from Morocco and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. Branded strains of high-potency cannabis are imported from the Netherlands. Cannabis is also cultivated in significant quantities across the United Kingdom, with production being controlled, for the most part, by British organised crime groups. Crack cocaine is converted locally from imported cocaine powder. Amphetamine may also be produced in the United Kingdom, with active laboratories believed to be most commonly located in the north-west of England.

6: Drug offences down

The number of arrests for drug law offences has decreased in recent years. In 2015/16, approximately 107 000 court convictions and police cautions for drug offences were reported in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Of the offences in which the drug involved was recorded (in England, Wales and Scotland), 55 % were cannabis related, 23 % were cocaine related (excluding crack cocaine) and 12 % were heroin related.

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