Home Office reports first increase in drug seizures in seven years. The amount of cocaine seized almost triples.

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The Home Office has just updated its statistical release for drug seizures made in 2018/19 in England and Wales by the police (including the British Transport Police) and Border Force. The data relate to all drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA), which divides drugs into three categories – Classes A, B and C – according to the harmfulness they cause to the user or to society when they are misused. Class A drugs are considered to be the most harmful. This statistical release also presents figures relating to drugs known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

Last year was the first year in which the number of seizures increased for the last seven years where a steady decline suggested that reductions in police numbers were having a significant impact on the amount of drugs taken off our streets.

The main points in the bulletin are:

  • Police forces and Border Force made a total of 153,135 drug seizures in England and Wales in 2018/19, a 12% increase compared with the previous year (136,439).
  • Cannabis was the most commonly seized drug, which was involved in 71% of all drug seizures in England and Wales in 2018/19. 
  • The second most commonly seized drug was cocaine, which was involved in 11% of all seizures.
  • Trends in the number of seizures are driven by police forces as the vast majority (94%) were made by them.
  • Seizures of cocaine by police forces and Border Force increased by 12% from 2017/18. The quantity of cocaine seized also increased by 6,307 kg from 3,338 kg in 2017/18 to 9,645 kg in 2018/19. This is the largest quantity of cocaine seized since recording began in 1973.
  • Seizures of crack by police forces increased by 20% since 2017/18, the highest number of seizures since 2008/09. The quantity of crack seized by police forces increased by 73%,the highest amount seized since 2004.
  • The quantity of ecstasy seized increased from 0.7 million doses in 2017/18 to 2.2 million doses in 2018/19. This was the highest quantity seized since 2006/07.

Other points of interest were:

  • There were 54,070 doses of LSD seized in 2018/19, the highest since 2005 when 1,137,000 doses were recorded, and an increase on the previous year (3,351 doses).
  • There were 22 seizures of fentanyl and 8 seizures of fentanyl analogues by police forces and Border Force in 2018/19. This is the first year that data on fentanyl seizures have been published separately from the ‘Other Class A drugs’ category.
  • Although the number of cannabis seizures increased, there were falls in the quantities of both herbal cannabis (down 42%) and cannabis resin (down 41%) seized.
  • Between 2017/18 and 2018/19, there was a 55% increase in the quantity of anabolic steroids seized, from 1.7 million to 2.7 million doses.
  • There were 2,973 seizures of NPS in 2018/19. This is an increase of 25% since 2017/18, when the number of seizures was 2,386.
  • The most commonly seized types of NPS in 2018/19 were synthetic cannabinoids (2,186 seizures), other NPS (310), NPS powders (250) and nitrous oxide (247).

Conclusion

Although these figures are always interesting, it is hard to make reliable conclusions about trends in drug use from them since a small number of larger seizures can distort the figures. We would, for instance, be certifiable if we deduced that the use of LSD had increased by a factor of 16 on the previous year.

However, the increase in both the number of cocaine seizures and the amount seized does seem to mirror the increasing number of (particularly young) people using the drug reported in the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales.

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