Annual review of the UK drug situation for 2017 published

An overview of illicit drug use across the whole of the UK in 2017 has been published by the UK Focal Point on Drugs, who are based within Public Health England.

The ‘United Kingdom Drug Situation: Focal Point Annual Report 2017’ has collated data across all four home nations and includes specific analysis of policy, prevention, treatment, drug-related deaths, infectious diseases and drug markets.

Key points relating to the UK as a whole:

– Heroin purity at user-level has continued to rise since the nadir seen in the early 2010s, and in 2015 was 43%, more than double the purity seen in 2011 and 2012. Similarly, powder cocaine purity, which was at its lowest in 2010, has risen since that time, and in 2016 user-level purity was 54%.

– Two-fifths (42%) of treatment presentations in the UK were for primary heroin use, with 25% of all service users presenting for treatment of cannabis use. Among those who had never previously been in treatment, 45% of clients presented for primary cannabis use, whereas 16% presented for primary heroin use, representing a five per cent decrease in the proportion of first-time primary heroin clients from 2015.

– As with the previous year, the primary drugs cited by those presenting to treatment services varied notably between the four countries of the UK. While almost half of treatment entrants cited heroin as their primary substance in England, Scotland and Wales, seven per cent of clients in Northern Ireland had this as their primary substance.

– Benzodiazepines were cited by a much larger proportion of treatment entrants in Scotland and Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK, while primary crack cocaine use was more common in England, and amphetamine/methamphetamine use was more common in Wales.

– Using the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) definition, the total number of drug-related deaths (DRDs) that occurred in the UK during 2015 was 3,070, a 13% increase from 2014 and the highest number reported to date.

– Across the UK there were 2,656 deaths reported which featured an opioid (87% of UK cases). As in previous years, the substance with the largest number of associated deaths was heroin. In contrast to the UK as a whole, tramadol was the most commonly mentioned opioid in Northern Ireland.

– There was a substantial increase in the number of deaths registered in Scotland in 2016 that involved a benzodiazepine, rising from 191 deaths in 2015 to 426 in 2016. Etizolam, classified as an NPS, was implicated in, or contributed to, the largest proportion of these cases (n=225, up from 43 cases in 2015).

– Over the last decade the average age at death has increased from 37.6 years in 2004 to 42.1 in 2015, with males being younger than females (41.3 years and 44.5 years respectively).

– National take-home naloxone programmes continue to supply naloxone to those exiting prison in Scotland and Wales: there were 720 kits issued by NHS staff in prisons in Scotland, and 655 in Wales, in 2016/17.

– Treatment data showed that 29,886 of the clients that presented to treatment in the UK in 2016 did so within a prison setting, made up of 27,575 individuals in England, 1,778 in Scotland, and 533 in Northern Ireland.

– Use of synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) in prisons remains a problem. Testing data published this year suggested that SCRAs are the most commonly used substance in prisons, with 16% of prisoners testing positive for these substances on release from prison, compared to nine per cent on arrival.

– Most proven drug law offences in the UK relate to cannabis: in 2015 there were 42,065 recorded possession offences, and 13,717 supply offences. Both possession and supply offences have seen decreases since 2011.

Click here to download the report.