Britans Spend £6.6bn a Year on Drugs

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Sep 22, 2001.

  1. By Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor
    Source: Guardian Unlimited

    More than 3m people spend a total of over £6.6bn a year on illegal drugs, according to the first official estimate of the size of the British drugs market. The Home Office figures show that cannabis smokers spend an average of £498 a year on their drugs, ecstasy users £681, and that it costs £15,000 a year to feed a weekly heroin habit.
    The overall value of the British illegal drugs market is not far from the £8bn a year spent on cigarettes and other tobacco products, compared with the £20bn spent annually on alcohol.

    As a "recreational industry" its annual sales are worth more than the £5.3bn annual retail turnover of the decorating and DIY market.

    New data from the British Crime Survey (BCS), also published yesterday, suggests that the government's anti-drug strategy has had little impact on drug abuse among teenagers in England and Wales.

    The government wants to reduce use of class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, among the under-25s by 25% by 2005. But the BCS figures, the official yardstick, show that since the strategy was introduced in 1998 use of the most serious drugs has remained broadly stable.

    Some decline in the use of LSD, poppers and amphetamines has been matched by a rise in cocaine abuse among 16- to 19-year-olds, with 5% of teenagers admitting they had used cocaine in the past year.

    The data also shows drug use to be more widespread among young white people (52% of whom have tried drugs), than among young black people (37%), or youths of Indian (25%), Pakistani or Bangladeshi (13%) descent.

    Although the pattern of abuse has been relatively stable since 1998, the Home Office data shows a decline in drug abuse among teenagers over the longer term. In 1994, 34% of 16- to 19-year-olds said they had used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months. In 2000, that figure had fallen to 27%.

    But the BCS survey confirms that half of all young people aged 16 to 24 have tried drugs at some point, compared with one in 10 of the population generally. Some 18% said they had used an illegal drug, mostly cannabis, in the past month.

    The Home Office director of statistics and research, Paul Wiles, said the official estimate of £6.6bn a year for the size of the drugs market was a "first attempt" to construct a new indicator of the scale of the drug problem in Britain based on street prices, and that it would need further work.

    The figures are based on samples of regular users who had been arrested and tested for drugs. More than 65% tested positive for one or more illegal drugs.

    The official figures suggest that there are 3.1m occasional smokers of cannabis in Britain and 270,000 regular heroin users. More than 430,000 people are estimated to be occasional users of ecstasy.

    The results of the drug testing of people arrested, also published yesterday, reveal 29% tested positive for heroin or cocaine, including crack. These hard drug users had been involved in an average of 432 thefts and burglaries in the previous year. This is nearly 10 times higher than the average of 46 offences reported by arrested criminals who were not drug users.

    Bob Ainsworth, the Home Office minister responsible for drugs, said the research meant the government was in a better position to monitor the progress of its strategy.

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    Anti-drugs policies are not working


    The deposed tsar got it wrong. He talked of a government anti-drugs policy that was on course. Yesterday's findings from the British crime survey, the most authoritative survey of illicit drug use, suggested official policy was making little headway. Indeed, far from falling, the use of class A drugs - particularly heroin and cocaine - among 16 to 24-year-olds was increasing between 1998 (the baseline) and 2000. True, the researchers believed the increases were not "statistically significant", preferring to describe the present consumption pattern as stable. But the government's targets involve a 25% reduction in class A drug use among young people by 2005 and 50% by 2008.

    The importance of these targets is underlined by a separate research study also released yesterday by the Home Office. This compared the crime patterns of drug offenders arrested by the police with other non-drug taking arrested offenders. The first category commit almost 10 times as much crime as non-drug offenders - 430 acquisitive crimes a year compared to 46. For a simple reason. It costs £15,000 a year to finance a regular heroin habit.

    There are several lessons which ministers can draw from yesterday's reports. First, the need to reclassify illegal drugs according to the risks they pose, as urged by last year's national commission on drugs misuse, foolishly rejected by the government. Cannabis is not reserved for a small minority of deviant youth. Yesterday's surveys found over 3m users. Almost half of all young people have tried it. The most mistaken message to young people is to suggest all drugs are equally dangerous. This is not just untrue, but young people know it is false. It is time cannabis was transferred from class B to class C. It uses up huge amounts of police resources - involving 78% of all possession charges, which account for 90% of all drug arrests - dangerously skewing their focus. To his credit, the new home secretary has recognised this shortcoming and welcomed the Metropolitan police's more permissive approach in a Lambeth pilot scheme.

    Then there is treatment, a new priority for a system that was spending 62% of its budget on enforcement (which does not work) and only 13% on treatment (which does). Yet the chance of someone who is not HIV or a serious criminal getting treatment remains remote. This is absurd. Political will is needed. Identifying a priority is not enough.

    Source: Guardian Unlimited, The (UK)
    Author: Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor
    Published: Saturday September 22, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited

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