Usage trends mainly flat
The latest National Statistics on illicit drug use in England and Wales were released last Thursday (27 July 2017) by the Home Office and Office for National Statistics, based on self reported responses from the 2016/17 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
The headline findings are:
- Around 1 in 12 (8.5%) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken an illicit drug in the last year. This equated to around 2.8 million people. This level of drug use was similar to the 2015/16 survey (8.4%), but statistically significantly lower than a decade ago (10.1% in the 2006/07 survey). The trend in last year drug use among 16 to 59 year olds has been flat for eight years, since the 2009/10 survey.
- Around 1 in 5 (19.2%) young adults aged 16 to 24 had taken an illicit drug in the last year. This proportion is more than double that of the wider age group, and equates to around 1.2 million people. This level of drug use was similar to the 2015/16 survey (18.0%), but again statistically significantly lower compared with a decade ago (24.2% in the 2006/07 survey).
- The use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) among 16 to 59 year olds in the last year has fallen from 0.7% in the 2015/16 survey to 0.4% in the 2016/17 survey, a statistically significant change. Use of NPS in the last year is concentrated among young adults aged 16 to 24, with around 1 in 80 (1.2%) young adults aged 16 to 24 taking an NPS in the last year, which equates to around 77,000 young adults.
- As in previous years, cannabis was the most commonly used drug, with 6.6 per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 having used it in the last year (around 2.2 million people), similar to the 2015/16 survey (6.5%), but showing statistically significant falls compared with a decade ago (8.2%) and the start of measurement in 1996 (9.4%).
- As in recent years, the second most commonly used drug in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 was powder cocaine (2.3% in the 2016/17 survey, equating to around 760,000 people). Powder cocaine was also the second most commonly used drug among young adults aged 16 to 24 (4.8% or around 297,000 young adults) after cannabis. Both proportions remained similar to the previous year (2.2% of 16 to 59 year olds and 4.4% of 16 to 24 year olds in the 2015/16 survey).
- The level of last year ecstasy use by adults aged 16 to 59 in the 2016/17 survey (1.3%, or around 439,000 people) was similar to the previous year (1.5%, or around 492,000 people). In the 2016/17 survey, the proportion of 16 to 24 year olds reporting ecstasy use in the last year was 4.3 per cent (around 262,000 young adults), a similar level to the 2015/16 survey.
- The 2016/17 survey estimated that in the last year 7.6 per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a prescription-only painkiller not prescribed to them for medical reasons, similar to the estimate of 7.4 per cent in the 2015/16 survey.
- Around a third (35%) of adults aged 16 to 59 thought that it would be very or fairly easy for them personally to get illegal drugs within 24 hours if they wanted them. Younger adults aged 16 to 24 year were more likely to think that it would be very or fairly easy for them personally to obtain drugs within 24 hours (44%), compared with 29 per cent of 55-59 year olds.
Frequency of illicit drug use in the last year
- Estimates from the 2016/17 CSEW show that 2.0 per cent of all adults aged 16 to 59 were defined as frequent drug users (having taken any illicit drug more than once a month on average in the last year), a statistically significant fall from 3.3 per cent in the 2015/16 CSEW.
- Young adults were more likely to be frequent drug users than 16 to 59 year olds. The proportion of young adults aged 16 to 24 who were classed as frequent drug users was 4.2 per cent.
- Six per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 who reported using drugs in the last year said they had used drugs every day.
The ONS also published a simple infographic summarising the main trends, reproduced below:
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