Illicit drug trends across the UK analysed in 2019 review

A review into illicit drug trends across the UK in 2019 has been published by Public Health England.

The ‘Focal Point’ annual report is a yearly collation of data from each country to give an overview of illicit substance use and associated trends across the UK, including information on prevalence, drug-related harms, treatment and more.

The report states that overall prevalence of drug use reported in the UK has remained relatively stable throughout the last decade. However, the most recent surveys covering England and Wales, and Scotland reported the highest prevalence of drug use in the past 10 years.

From the most recent surveys, the prevalence of any drug use in the last year was 9.4% in England and Wales, 12% in Scotland, and 5.9% in Northern Ireland.

Drug use among 15 year olds has risen over the past 5 years. In 2018, 38% of 15 year olds in England, and 21% of 15 year olds in Scotland, said that they had ever used drugs.

The most commonly used drugs have not changed over time. Cannabis is the most prevalent, followed by powder cocaine, MDMA, ketamine and amphetamine.

Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists, such as Spice, are widely used in prisons. They were detected in more random drug tests than cannabis in England and Wales in 2018 to 2019. In Scotland, buprenorphine was the most commonly detected drug in addiction prevalence tests carried out in prisons in 2018 to 2019.

In relation to drug-harms, in 2017, 3,284 drug-related deaths (DRDs) occurred in Great Britain using the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) definition, which is deaths caused directly by the consumption of at least one illicit drug.

The drug-related mortality rate per million population in Great Britain using the EMCDDA definition was the highest on record, at 76 per million. The mortality rate in Scotland was 229 per million in 2017, the highest rate reported in Europe in that year.

The prevalence of hepatitis C among people who inject drugs, who were surveyed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018 was 54%. This is the highest figure in the past decade. In Scotland, the prevalence reported in 2017 to 2018 was 57%.

In relation to treatment, in 2018, 114,752 individuals started drug treatment in England, Scotland and Wales, a decrease from over 122,000 in 2015.

Across England and Wales, there were 234,101 people in treatment at any time during 2018. The most common primary drug reported by people starting treatment in Great Britain in 2018 was heroin, with cannabis the second most common. In Northern Ireland in 2017, cannabis was the most common primary substance.

Click to read the report in full.

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