The proportion of adults aged 16-59 taking an illegal drug in the last year, according to the 2017/18 Crime Survey for England and Wales, has remained pretty consistent over recent years, at around 9%.
But while the lack of increase is clearly good news, that’s not to say nothing’s changing at all.
Every year, the publication of the NHS Statistics on Drug Misuse sheds new light on drug use among adults and children, hospital admissions and deaths relating to drug usage, and information on drug seizures. Drawing on a variety of data sources, the report reveals where the biggest shifts in behaviours, substance types and outcomes occurred- and some of the results are surprising. From seaside town addiction rates to the revelation that the majority of drug misuse deaths are accidental, here are our top five insights from the latest report.
In terms of hospital admissions and adult drug use, the report spans 2017/18. For data on deaths, the report covers 2017.
Admissions increasing for older users
While hospital admissions due to drug usage tend to be concentrated at the younger end of the age spectrum, the percentage increase in older admissions is staggering.
Since 2007-2008, the number of hospital admissions amongst those aged 45+ relating to drug use has increased by 85%. This compares with a 1% increase for those aged under 45. Meanwhile, the number of admissions for poisoning by drug misuse has risen by 32% amongst those aged 55+, compared with a figure of 6% for those aged under 55.
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These increases come despite the fact that younger people are more likely to be drug users. With much of today’s educational focus being on younger audiences, could more be done to educate older users on the dangers of drug misuse?
Blackpool has the highest admission rates
Analysing health service data by local authority, the report reveals that Blackpool had the highest rate of drug-related hospital admissions in 2017-2018: 61 drug-related mental and behavioural disorder admissions per 100,000 population, and 101 poisoning by drug misuse admissions per 100,000 population. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the lowest admission rates of both types were in various London boroughs.
Blackpool also has the highest rate of heroin deaths of any local authority: 14 per 100,000 population, compared with an England average of 1.7. Cheap accommodation, council budget cuts and the deindustrialisation of UK seaside towns have been blamed - but with recent government funding awarded to help young people avoid substance misuse, steps are being taken to combat the problem.
Most drug misuse deaths are accidental
In 2017, 1,995 of all deaths related to poisoning by drug misuse were accidental. This figure accounts for 80% of illegal drug misuse deaths and compares with just 389 drug-related suicides.
Figures for 2017 reveal a significant increase in deaths linked with cocaine (as a result of crack use increasing), fentanyl (which is often mixed with other drugs, sometimes without the user knowing), synthetic cannabinoids and prescription medication. While cocaine has been around for a while, this report shows the danger in the increase of newer, lesser-known substances.
Cannabis use continues to rise
2017/18 Crime Survey stats show an increase in the use of cannabis, with 7.2% of those aged 16-59 admitting to having used the drug in the last year. This ranks cannabis as the most commonly used drug and means that estimated usage levels are at their highest in nine years.
This could well be fuelled by an increase in older users, with PHE figures showing that the number of over-40s seeking treatment for cannabis-related issues has more than doubled in the last ten years.
It’s estimated that the UK’s cannabis black market is worth £2.6bn per year, with 255 tonnes sold in 2017 alone. Could legalisation be the answer?
The majority of treatment is for opiate dependence
During the 2017/18 period, 268,390 people were in contact with drug and alcohol services. Of those, 141,189 (53%) were being treated for opiate dependence. While this is a fall of 4% on the previous year’s figures, many of this group also used other drugs: 45% using crack cocaine, 20% misusing alcohol, 17% using cannabis and 10% using benzodiazepine.
Just 9% of those treated for opiate addiction were referred by health services or social care, compared with an 18% average, with 26% (compared with a 14% average) referred via prison, arrest or another criminal justice source. With 53% of drug poisoning deaths involving an opiate, is there more that could be done before reaching the criminal stage?
While actual drug usage remains fairly consistent over time, this latest NHS report reveals some worrying insights. With older members of the population more at risk of drug-related hospital admissions than ever, with new and prescription drugs on the rise, and with the majority of drug-related deaths being accidental, rather than intentional, one thing is clear. When it comes to illegal and prescription drugs, more education is needed - and not just amongst children, teenagers and young adults - to warn of the dangers associated with drug misuse. Without this, it is unlikely that we’ll see improved statistics in the next NHS update.
At Cansford Labs, we regularly test individuals for the presence of drugs or alcohol. But what do the levels detailed in our analysis actually mean? Find out here.
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