Are drug users a dying breed?
NB. I will focus this post on drug use by 16-24 year olds. Drug use among 16-59 year olds is declining but much more slowly.
The UK government released the latest British Crime Survey results for England and Wales today and with it comes a wealth of information about drug use. The data is collected from about 10,000 random participants and includes information about drug use in the last year and across one’s lifetime.
In keeping with the previous ten years there is a continuing downward trend of drug use in the last year which is actually pretty significant. For example, “ecstasy” use by people aged 16-24 has declined 50% in the last ten years, from 6% of the population in 2003 to less than 3% of people having used it in 2013.
Given that this is a properly conducted survey it’s hard to argue with a ten year trend, but what is going on here? Can it be that drugs are going out of fashion? Is the drug war working? Are young people more concerned about their health than they used to be?
All entirely possible, but what if the results are actually indicative of a flawed survey? Though technically correct, what if the survey is actually failing to really find out about drug use?
It’s no secret that the governement is woefully unable to respond to changes in the drug market and the BCS is no different. This year’s survey includes two “novel” substances but salvia and nitrous are far from novel. In fact they are two of the oldest legal highs available and measuring their use tells us almost nothing about real NPS use.
So could NPS use be accountable for the steady downward trend? Clearly the reports of ever increasing NPS numbers shows that they are snowballing popularity but the BCS makes no mention of anything other than mephedrone, which was banned in 2010.
To me it still looks like a no for three reasons:
- The decline has been steady over the last ten years but the NPS industry has absolutely boomed since 2009. The emergence and subsequent scheduling of mephedrone does not appear to have even made a dent in the stimulant statistics, with amphetamine and cocaine use actually increasing in 2009/10.
- Data from the global drug survey suggests that Mephedrone use has been steadily declining since its ban too, though it does appear that availability has dropped.
- It’s not just stimulant and cannabinoid use that’s falling – despite a relatively small number of novel opioids on the market heroin use has dropped by a solid 80%, though reported opiate use has admittedly fluctuated seemingly due to methadone use.
This doesn’t excuse the government from making a half-arsed attempt at collecting good data but it is fascinating to see that drug use really does seem to be on a steady downward trend. Perhaps it really is just going out of fashion. There is certainly no obvious nationwide trend I’ve noticed over the entirety of the last 10 years, and with the increasing popularity of festivals I would certainly be expecting the opposite trend. If you have any suggestions at all, please leave a comment.
What will this mean for drug users though? Will enforcement budgets be decreased accordingly? Or will there be a final push to try and eradicate drug use once and for all?