Just how prevalent is illicit drug use in England and Wales?
That’s one of the questions that the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) aims to answer. Published annually, the research for the CSEW is conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Interviewers conduct face-to-face interviews in the homes of a group of respondents that is representative of the population, asking 16 to 59-year-olds about their experiences of crime over the last 12 months.
While police-recorded statistics for certain drug-related offences are available, they do not show the complete picture. The CSEW allows the ONS to create a more thorough record of drug misuse, as it includes incidents not reported to, or recorded by, the police.
The most recent edition of the CSEW was published in mid-September 2019, and you can read the full drug misuse-related findings here. Here are the highlights from this year’s report.
Drug use within the last year is on the rise
This year’s CSEW reveals that 9.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 have taken a drug in the last year (around 3.2 million people). It’s a figure that has risen since the 2015/16 survey, when it stood at 8.3% of the 16-59 population.
When looking at the 16-24 age group, however, this figure is higher. 20.3% of 16-24-year-olds stated that they have taken a drug in the last year (around 1.3 million people). As with the wider age band, this figure has increased from 18% in 2015/16.
Drug use in the last month is falling
While the number of adults aged 16-59 saying that they have used “any drug” in the last 12 months rose from 4.3% to 5.0% over the last year, the overall trend has been one of decline since a high of 7.3% in 2003/04.
It’s a similar picture for those aged 16 to 24, with a (not significant) increase from 9.6% to 11.4% between 2017/18 and 2018/19, but a general downward trend since a high of 20.8% in 1998.
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On the whole, this is good news - suggesting that regular drug use is on the wane. However, having seen that annual drug use is on the rise - and with lifetime drug use showing no sign of fading (34.2% of 16-59-year-olds have ever used illicit drugs - similar to the 34.6% seen the previous year) - this downward trend should be used in context with the report’s other findings.
More people - especially young people - are taking Class A drugs
Around 1.3 million people (3.7% of adults aged 16 to 59) have taken a Class A drug in the past year - similar to the 3.5% recorded in the 2017/18 survey, but following a general upward trend since the 2.6% recorded in the 1996 edition of the survey.
This year’s Crime Survey for England and Wales also reveals that 8.7% of those aged 16 to 24 have taken a Class A drug in the last year. This compares with 8.4% in the previous year - and, although not a significant increase, this figure represents the highest estimate since 2002/2003.
The upward trend for 2018/19 is driven primarily by the use of both powder cocaine and ecstasy. Powder cocaine use amongst this age group has been rising steadily since the 2012/13 survey. With 6.2% of young adults saying they have used it in the last year, it makes it the third most popular drug of choice for this age bracket. Could the fact that cocaine is becoming cheaper, purer and easier to get hold of be the cause?
Ecstasy use has also risen amongst this age group since 2012/13, from 3.3% to 4.7% of 16 to 24-year-olds. While the increase may not be significant, it’s believed that it is partly attributed to the increasing number of festivals in the UK with Harry Shapiro, director of awareness group DrugWise, saying, “I think festivals give young people in their mid to late teens an opportunity to be away from prying eyes and experiment with things.”
The results of the 2018/19 Crime Survey for England and Wales show that the use of certain drugs - and among certain segments of the population - are on the rise. While some of these increases may not be statistically significant across the most recent few years, they still signal that drug misuse remains a persistent problem across England and Wales - particularly amongst younger adults.
As such, it’s likely that drug testing will continue to be a feature of family law court proceedings - and could also increasingly become an issue that employers need to address, with the youngest of those surveyed entering the workforce. For those involved in cases that require drug testing, it means that it’s even more vital that any testing programmes are grounded in stringent processes and practices, that testing is conducted by accredited labs, and that the results are able to stand up in court when required.
If you’re looking for a trusted partner to conduct your workplace or family law drug tests, contact Cansford Labs to find out how we can help.
Image credit: Unsplash
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