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Latest official drug statistics suggest resurgence in school children's use of drugs.

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Big rise in children's use of drugs

Last week (7 February 2018), NHS Digital published the latest statistics on drugs misuse for England. Some of these statistics are new, some had already been published.

For this blog post, I have picked out some of what I feel are the most interesting facts. Although the number of drug-related deaths increased again, I have not focused on this grim statistic since the figures are for 2016, data we already had and covered in detail here.

Hospital admissions

There were 7,545 hospital admissions in 2016/17 with a primary diagnosis of drug-related mental health and behaviour disorders – a 12% drop on the previous year (although 12% higher than a decade ago). Unsurprisingly, the peak age range was between 25-34 (33% of all admissions) and nearly three quarters (74%) were men.

There were also 14,053 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs – a 7% drop on the previous yar but 40% more than a decade ago.

Hospital admissions for drug-related mental health & behaviour disorders 2006-2017

Prevalence of drug use – adults

In 2016/17, around 1 in 12 (8.5 per cent) adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales had taken an illicit drug in the last year. This level of drug use was similar to the 2015/16 survey (8.4 per cent), but is significantly lower than a decade ago (10.1 per cent in the 2006/07 survey).

The same figures for 16-24 year olds were, of course, higher: around 1 in 5 (9.2%) young adults had taken an illicit drug in the last year, slightly higher than the previous year (18%) but significantly lower than a decade earlier (24.2%).

Unsurprisingly, cannabis was the favourite drug and men reported being much more likely to use every type of drug than women (see the chart  below).

English and Welsh people are more likely to have used cocaine than people in any other Europan country with 10% having taken cocaine at least once in their lifetime compared to a European average of just over 5%.

Gender of last year use by substance

Adult use of New Psychoactive Substances

The number of adults using NPS had dropped sharply from 0.7% in 2015/16 to 0.4% this year with the figure for young adults’ use dropping even more sharply from 2.6% to 1.2%.

NPS use last two years

Prevalence of drug use – children

Twenty four percent of 11-15 year olds reported ever taking a drug compared to 15% two years earlier. PHE statisticians attribute part of this increase by the addition of questions about nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and NPS. This is still a big increase and it will be interesting to see if this is confirmed in next year’s survey.

Interestingly, there was minimal gender difference – 25% boys reported every having taken a drug compared to 24% girls. 

8% children said they had taken cannabis in the last year, 4% nitrous oxide and 2% NPS.


Thanks to for kind permission to use the header image in this post.

11-15 year olds' last year use by substance

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