The extent and trends of illicit drug use
Yesterday (15 December 2022), the Office for National Statistics published its latest overview of the extend and trends of illicit drug use, drawing on data from the latest edition of the Crime Survey for England and Wales and covering the year ending June 2022. The headline findings are:
- Approximately 1 in 11 adults aged 16 to 59 years (9.2%; approximately 3 million adults) and approximately 1 in 5 adults aged 16 to 24 years (18.6%; approximately 1.1 million adults) reported last year drug use in the year ending June 2022; there was no change compared with the year ending March 2020.
- In the year ending June 2022, 2.7% of adults aged 16 to 59 years and 4.7% of adults aged 16 to 24 years reported last year Class A drug use; a significant decrease from the year ending March 2020 when this was 3.4% and 7.4%, respectively.
- There were no changes in last year drug use for the majority of individual drugs in the year ending June 2022 compared with the year ending March 2020, except for ecstasy and nitrous oxide; prevalence of ecstasy use fell from 1.4% to 0.7% in adults aged 16 to 59 years and from 4.0% to 1.1% in adults aged 16 to 24 years while prevalence of nitrous oxide use fell from 2.4% to 1.3% for adults aged 16 to 59 years and from 8.7% to 3.9% for adults aged 16 to 24 years.
- Decreases in the use of Class A drugs, ecstasy and nitrous oxide may have been a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and government restrictions on social contact.
- In the year ending June 2022, 2.6% of adults aged 16 to 59 years reported being frequent users of drugs (using them more than once a month in the past year); this was similar to the year ending March 2020 (2.1%).
Trends in the use of individual drug types
Before looking at the data about individual drug types, it is worth noting the statisticians’ words of caution:
“While this is the first comparable survey data with pre-coronavirus pandemic data from the year ending March 2020, they are not National Statistics and caution must be taken when using these data. The CSEW statistics presented in this release are based on nine months of data collection between October 2021 and June 2022, rather than the normal 12-month interview period, and on a lower response rate, which may affect the quality of the estimates.”
- Cannabis: Since estimates began in the year ending December 1995, cannabis has consistently been the most used drug in England and Wales; in the latest year, 7.4% and 16.2% of adults aged 16 to 59 years and 16 to 24 years, respectively, reported having used the drug in the last year; a similar level to the year ending March 2020 and the year ending March 2012; however, levels are much lower compared with the year ending December 1995.
- Powder cocaine: There was no change in the prevalence of last year powder cocaine use for adults aged 16 to 59 years (2.0%) and 16 to 24 years (4.0%) compared with the year ending March 2020. However, levels were higher than the year ending December 1995 when estimates were first recorded.
- Ecstasy: Prevalence of last year ecstasy use was at its lowest level since data were first collected; 0.7% of adults aged 16 to 59 years and 1.1% of adults aged 16 to 24 years had reporting taking this drug in the last year; a 47% decrease for those aged 16 to 59 years and a 72% decrease for those aged 16 to 24 years compared with the year ending March 2020.
- New psychoactive substances (NPS): The level of NPS use in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 years (0.4%) and 16 to 24 years (0.9%) showed no change compared with the year ending March 2020.
- Nitrous oxide: In the last year 1.3% of adults aged 16 to 59 years and 3.9% of adults aged 16 to 24 years had used nitrous oxide, this is equivalent to around 444,000 and 230,000 individuals, respectively; around half as many as reported use in the year ending March 2020.
A greater proportion of younger people use drugs as you can see from the chart below.
The prevalence of drug use varies by household characteristics, such as household income. Those earning less than £10,400 per year were more likely to use a drug in the last year (15.2%) than those with higher incomes. These differences may not be independently related as they may be affected by factors such as age, as younger people are likely to have a lower income.
Broken down by drug type, those earning less than £10,400 per year were most likely to have used cannabis (13.2%). However, those in the highest income groups were most likely to have used a Class A drug, with 3.2% of households earning £52,000 or more per year having used a Class A drug in the last year, compared with 2.4% of households earning less than £10,400 per year.
Among adults aged 16 to 59 years, almost half of all illegal drugs were obtained through a friend, neighbour or colleague (48.4%). The next most common source was a dealer, with 22.8% of adults reporting obtaining the drug this way.
In the year under consideration, around 38.8% of adults claimed it would be very or fairly easy for them to obtain illegal drugs within 24 hours, lower than was claimed in the year ending March 2020 (43.2%).
Thanks to Ander Burdain for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.