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National Statistics
Publication

Statistics on Drug Misuse, England, 2019

This is part of

National statistics
Publication date:
Geographic coverage:
England, Wales
Geographical granularity:
Local Authorities, Regions
Date range:
01 Apr 2018 to 31 Mar 2019

Part 3: Drug use among adults

This part presents a range of information on illicit drug use among adults including the prevalence of drug use, the number of people receiving treatment for drug addiction, comparisons across European countries and information on new psychoactive substances (previously known as legal highs).

The main source of data for drug use among adults is the Drug misuse: findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales published by the Home Office. This is an annual publication covering the prevalence and trends of illicit drug use among 16 to 59 year olds including separate analysis on young adults (16 to 24). Illicit drug use excludes new psychoactive substances, and nitrous oxide from the drug use prevalence figures, but these are covered separately in the survey.

Information on drug dependence is taken from the NHS Digital Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England. This survey has been run every 7 years since 1993, with the last one having taken place in 2014.

Information on treatment for drug misuse is taken from Public Health England’s alcohol and drug misuse treatment publications, which are based on data from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS).

Comparisons of drug use prevalence across European countries is taken from the European Drug Report –Trends and Developments, published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

 

Prevalence of drug use among adults

Analysis in this section covers adults aged 16 to 59 in Engand and Wales, unless otherwise stated.

Drug use in the last year

16-59 year olds

Around 1 in 11 (9.4%) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a drug in the last year, which equated to around 3.2 million people. The latest estimate was not significantly higher than the previous year (9.0%, in 2017/18), though there has been an upward trend since 2015/16 (8.3%). However, the 2018/19 estimate still remains lower than in 1996 (11.2%), when the time series began.

Around 1 in 25 (3.7%) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a Class A drug in the last year, which equates to around 1.3 million people. This is similar to the 2017/18 estimate (3.5%). 

Chart showing drug use in last year among adults aged 16-59, by year

16-24 year olds

Around 1 in 5 (20.3%) adults aged 16 to 24 had taken a drug in the last year, which equates to around 1.3 million people, similar to the 2017/18 survey (19.8%). The latest estimate was lower than in 1996 (29.7%), but there was no significant change compared with a decade ago (22.4% in 2008/09).

8.7% had taken a Class A drug in the last year, similar to in 2017/18 (8.4%).  There has been an increase compared with 2011/12 (6.2%), with the 2018/19 estimate the highest since 2002/03 (8.9%). This is mainly driven by an increase in powder cocaine and ecstasy use.

Chart showing drug use in last year among adults aged 16-24, by year

 

Drug use in last year by sex and drug type

Levels of adult (aged 16-59) drug use during the last year were higher among men than among women. Almost one in eight men (12.6%) reported taking ‘any drug’ in the last year compared with 6.3 per cent of women.

When considering individual drugs:

  • Around one in ten (10.3%) men reported using cannabis in the last year compared with one in twenty women (5.0%);
  • Men were more than twice as likely to have taken powder cocaine in the last year (4.0% of men compared with 1.7% of women);
  • 2.1% of men reported having taken ecstasy in the last year compared with 1.0% of women.

Only the most common drug types are shown below.

Chart showing drug use in last year by sex and drug type

 

Cannabis use in last year

Similarly to previous surveys, cannabis was the most commonly used drug by respondents in 2018/19, with 7.6 % of adults aged 16 to 59 having used it in the last year, equating to around 2.6 million people. There was a long-term decline from a high of 10.7% in 2002/03 to 6.5 per cent in 2009/10, but has shown a one percentage point increase since 2016/17.

Cannabis was also the most commonly used drug by young adults aged 16 to 24, with 17.3% having used it in the last year (around 1.1 million young adults). The long-term decline was more apparent in this age group, falling from 28.2 per cent in 1998 down to 15.1 per cent in the 2013/14 survey. Since then there has been a general upward trend although the latest estimate is similar to the previous year (16.7% in 2017/18).

Chart showing cannabis use in last year by year

 

Powder cocaine use in the last year

Powder cocaine was the second most commonly used drug in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 (2.9% in 2018/19, equating to around 976,000 people). Among young adults aged 16 to 24 it was the third most commonly used drug (6.2%, around 395,000 young adults), behind cannabis (17.3%) and nitrous oxide (8.7%).

Having fallen between 2008/09 and 2012/13, there has since been a general upward trend in last year cocaine use for both age groups.

Chart showing NPS use in last year by year

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Prevalence of drug use - comparisons with other European countries

Data in this section is for adults aged 15-64 or nearest available, so varies between countries. Data is taken from the latest available survey for each country when last collected by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. England and Wales figures were taken from the 2017/18 Crime Survey for England and Wales. See footnotes in source report table for further details.

Drug use in the last year

Across European countries, the level of illicit drug use in the last year ranged from 12% of adults in Spain and France, to 2% in Cyprus and Hungary.

9% of adults in England and Wales had used an illicit drug in the last year, 7th highest level of the 27 countries with data available. 

Chart showing comparision of adult drug use in the last year across European countries

 

Cannabis use in the last year

The level of cannabis use in the last year ranged from 11% of adults in Spain and France, to 1% in Malta and Turkey.

7% of adults in England and Wales had used cannabis in the last year, 8th highest level of the 30 countries with data available.

Chart showing comparision of adult cannabis use in the last year across European countries

 

Cocaine use in the last year

England and Wales reported the highest level of cocaine use in the last year across European countries with 2.7%. 

Spain and the Netherlands were the only other countries where use was over 2%.

Chart showing comparision of adult cocaine use in the last year across European countries

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Drug dependence among adults

Please note: This section has not been subject to an update since the previous version of this publication.

Analysis in this section covers adults aged 16 and over unless otherwise stated.

Drug dependence by year

Between 1993 and 2000 there was an increase in the proportions of adults (16-64) reporting signs of dependence in the past year.

Since then, the overall level of signs of dependence has remained stable.

Chart showing adult drug dependance by year

 

Drug dependence by sex and age

Signs of dependence in 2014 were higher among males than females; 4.3% compared to 1.9%.

Drug dependence decreased with age. 11.8% of men aged 16 to 24 showed signs of dependence.

Chart showing adult drug dependance by age

 

Drug dependence by ethnic group

Using age-standardised data, the proportion showing signs of dependence was highest (at 7.5%) among adults in the Black/Black British group. This may be explained by their higher rates of cannabis use, and could reflect reporting of daily use.

Chart showing adult drug dependance by ethnic group

 

Drug dependence by employment status

Among adults aged 16–64, the prevalence of drug dependence varied with employment status.

In men, signs of drug dependence were most common in those classed as economically inactive (9.6%). The ‘economically inactive’ group includes students, and those looking after home, long term sick or disabled, or retired.

For women, the highest prevalence was found in those who were unemployed (4.4%). 

Chart showing adult drug dependance by employment status

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Adults in treatment for substance misuse

Analysis in this section covers adults aged 18 and over.

Adults in treatment by reason

There were 268,251 adults in contact with drug and alcohol services in 2018/19, which was very similar to 2017/18 (268,390).

Over half (52%) received treatment for problems with opiates. A further 20% had problems with other drugs.

Nearly three-quarters of people in treatment for drug use were male.

Chart showing adults in treatment by reason

 

Adults in treatment by age

The age profile of opiate users was older than for those using only non-opiates.

The median age of people in the opiate group was 41 years, compared to 30 years in the non-opiate group.

Chart showing adults in treatment by age

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Adults in a secure setting in treatment for substance misuse

Adults in treatment by reason

In 2017/18, the number of adults (aged 18 and over) accessing treatment in a secure setting was 55,413, with the majority being in a prison setting (53,109).

Just over half of all adults in treatment in a secure setting reported problematic use of opiates (52%, or 28,859).

Problematic opiate use was reported by half of the male treatment population (50%, or 24,712). Almost three-quarters (74%, or 4,147) of women in treatment were being treated for opiate use.

Chart showing adults in secure settings in treatment by reason

 

Adults in treatment by age

As with community treatment, the age profile of opiate users was older than for those using only non-opiates.

The median age of people in the opiate group was 36 years, compared to 28 years in the non-opiate group.

Chart showing adults in secure settings in treatment by age

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For more data relating to this section:

Last edited: 25 November 2019 12:01 pm