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Heroin and crack addiction falls by 25,000

By catseye, Sep 3, 2011 | Updated: Sep 3, 2011 | | |
  1. catseye
    By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
    Saturday, 3 September 2011

    Britain's drug problem is on the wane according to figures which show that the number of heroin and crack users is down and their average age is rising.


    Research suggests there are 25,000 fewer addicts in 2009-10 than six years ago when the first survey by experts from the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at the University of Glasgow was carried out.

    However, banning the legal high mephedrone in 2009 has had the perverse effect of increasing the danger to drug users, experts say.

    The latest estimate of 306,150 opiate and crack cocaine users in 2009-10 is the first to show a significant decrease. Of those, 103,185 were injecting drug users who face the greatest danger, a fall of 12 per cent.

    Paul Hayes, chief executive of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, said: "It looks as if fewer young adults are turning to heroin and crack and fewer users in general are taking part in risky injecting behaviour. This is an encouraging development but we can't be complacent as long as drugs are ruining lives and causing misery to communities."

    The findings come after figures published by the Office for National Statistics showed deaths from drug poisoning, involving both legal and illegal drugs, fell 5 per cent in 2010 compared with 2009. Deaths involving cocaine fell 29 per cent to 144. Experts said there had been a significant drop in the number of young adults coming for treatment with drug problems.

    "The demand is from older entrenched users who were caught up in the heroin epidemic of the 1980s. They are a more difficult nut to crack", a spokesman for the NTA said.

    Gordon Hay, who led the study, said the number of users had been falling consistently for five years but this was the first statistically significant drop.

    "It is going down more in younger age groups – both because they are less likely to use heroin and crack than the older age groups and because there are effective ways of dealing with them," he said.

    There had been a "massive expansion" of treatment and it was much quicker for addicts to get help than in the past, he said.

    Sheila Bird, of the MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge, who is an expert on drug addiction, said previous estimates by the University of Glasgow group had been too low.

    "When Gordon Hay said there were 130,000 injecting users, we estimated 200,000. When the answer you get depends on the assumptions you make, we have to be cautious about calling a triumph."

    Professor Bird said the sharp fall in deaths involving cocaine suggested users had switched to the legal high mephedrone, which was of higher quality and less likely to be "cut" with other substances. "Cocaine is a lethal drug," she said.

    Mephedrone was banned controversially by the Government in March 2009. Prof Bird said: "Banning mephedrone may have had an adverse effect on the public health because when it was around we were spared the cocaine-related deaths.

    "That raises the question: is there anything we can do in public health that has the effect we have seen? We need to learn from this."



  1. catseye
    Professor David Nutt: Attitudes need to change for drug addict numbers to fall even lower


    Saturday, 3 September 2011

    These figures are good news.

    At least things are not getting worse. That is reassuring. A decline in the number of addicts is what I would have expected thanks to the expansion of treatment. The treatments work – this is really compelling.

    It represents a challenge to the view being propagated by the Conservatives, who are opposed to maintenance therapy – keeping addicts on methadone. They don't want maintenance therapy – they want a cure.

    The reason this reduces the number of addicts is that as soon as you take away their prescribed drugmethadone – they will have to find an alternative. Most will get it illegally and to raise the money to pay for it will commit crime and sell the drug to other users.

    Getting people into treatment reduces the need for addicts to make other people addicts and thus reduces the addict population on methadone. We don't have effective treatments for stimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine. However, it is clear a lot of people switched from cocaine and ecstasy to mephedrone – because they knew what they were getting. The benefit of mephedrone is that it is much less toxic than cocaine.

    The best way to get addicts off drugs is to find treatments that stabilise them. But almost no research is being done because of the Government's simplistic view addiction is not an illness. We need to change this view and increase investment.

    Professor David Nutt is based at Imperial College, London

  2. jon-q
    Well on the surface these figures appear to suggest that the Governments have been investing heavily in substance abuse programs of late, strangely i assumed the exact opposite was actually happening. Figures obtained from the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) would also support my theory.

    In 2006-7 the total funding budget that was allocated to the NTA was £604m. The funding for 2007-8 dropped slightly in real terms to £590m. A further reduction followed in 2008-9 which equates to £581m. The figures for 2010-11 are a little confusing to me, £406m was allocated in central government funding (Pooled treatment budget) but i can’t find any information at present as to how much local funding was given to the NTA. The budget for 2011-12 has been set at £466m; again it’s un-clear if this includes any additional local funding.

    So if funding has been continuously cut over the last few years why is there a supposed drop in the numbers of Heroin and Crack addicts? Well here’s my thought’s... In the autumn of 2008 the UK went through a period of about two months when Heroin was difficult to obtain on the streets, this shortage repeated its self in 2009. In 2010 this seasonal shortage again visited the shores of the UK, this became known as the great Heroin drought and is still in effect 10 months after it originally began. Could it be that many of the Heroin users in the above study have been forced into quitting their addiction because feeding a habit has become so difficult?

    When the authorities finally admitted there was a Heroin shortage in the UK they claimed it was due to increased seizures by Interpol and more effective policing on the streets of the UK. I would hate to see the Government (even a Conservative government) claim their policy towards substance abuse programs was the reason for the drop in numbers of people using Heroin.

    I don’t have the same recourses available to me as The Centre for Drug Misuse Research, but i will speculate that when this study is carried out in 2012 it will show that the number of people using Heroin and Crack Cocaine in the UK has fallen by record levels.

  3. Phenoxide
    Sheila Bird pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned:

    I'm skeptical to say the least. I do love the way they've portrayed the figures on that graph though, a graph that is so insecure about its own message that it needs a caption reiterating that "massive expansion in treatment" explains this big dropping line. While my version of the graph is not as slick I think it presents their own estimates more reasonably:


    Not quite as impressive a figure and a drop without an autoscaled y-axis. Also they gloss over the fact that there is a missing year, and it's only after this missing year that they started to see annual decline. I'd think the most likely reason is that when the surveying was resumed in 2008-09 they'd changed the way they calculate their "estimate" of the number of drug users, and hey presto suddenly the drug treatment programmes are a success! Maybe that's just cynical though. There's a whole lot of fineprint that they're not showing when making these bold claims and everyone pats each other on the back for doing a great job.

    I honestly don't know how you can estimate the number of addicts with any great reliability. That's a really complex one to determine. The distinction between user and addict is a grey area unless you start to involve some objective criteria such as number of people accessing drug treatment programmes. If you do use access to treatment to draw the estimation then I'd expect a successful scheme to increase rather than decrease the number of reported addicts because it means more people will be getting into treatment and you can correct for a previously underestimated problem. In such a case a decline would also indicate fewer people getting into treatment, not fewer addicts.

    As jon-q says other factors such as availability of the drug undoubtedly must have an influence too. Funding being slashed is also an interesting point though I guess cuts may take a few years to really take effect as government grants and so forth expire and aren't renewed.

    Even taking these figures at face value I guess the biggest question is whether an approximate 5% drop (taking into account statistical variance) in addicts represents a reasonable return on this "massive" investment in drug treatment programs over six years?
  4. jon-q
    Heroin and crack cocaine use in decline

    Young people in England are turning their backs on the most dangerous illegal drugs for the first time in 30 years, according to the head of the national treatment agency.

    New figures show that the total number of drug users entering treatment for heroin or crack cocaine has fallen by 10,000 over the past two years.

    The official data shows that the fall in heroin use is particularly sharp among under 30s with the number of 18-24 year olds in treatment more than halving and the 25-29 age group almost matching this fall.

    Drug treatment experts say that they are "cautiously optimistic" that the heroin epidemic which has gripped Britain since the 1980s may have finally passed its high water mark.

    Paul Hayes, NTA chief executive, said the new figures which also show an 18% rise in the number of people officially defined as "recovering from addiction" were an indication that the trend was moving in the right direction. "We're a goal up, but it's not half time yet. I think what it shows is that we've probably passed the high water mark of the impact of the epidemic of the late 80s and 90s," he said.

    Hayes said that the once popular images of "heroin chic" and the Trainspotting culture were no longer fashionable and young people instead see the damage heroin and crack use has done to their older siblings and, in some cases, their parents.

    "If you see people in your community who actually can't cope because of heroin and crack use. If you increasingly see heroin and crack dependency concentrated among the people in society who do life least well, as that becomes apparent, it's difficult to see it being fashionable or chic."

    But he warned that the onset of the heroin epidemic that scarred the late 1980s and 1990s on the back of a sharp rise in youth employment could yet return. "We need to be vigilant that if we see a rise in youth unemployment that it doesn't lead to a return to 1980s level of heroin use. It is not inevitable but we have to watch the situation very closely," said Hayes.

    The latest NTA drug data for 2010/11 shows that 52,933 drug users entered treatment for heroin or crack cocaine in the past year, down from 58,016 in 2009/10 and 62,963 in 2008/09. The national drug treatment monitoring system figures show that 27,969 adults left treatment "free from dependency" last year – an 18% increase over the previous year.

    The figures echo estimates from the University of Glasgow's drug misuse research centre which put the number of heroin and crack users in England in 2009/10 at 306,000 down from 332,000 in 2008/09.

    The annual budget for drug treatment has risen to £600m a year from £200m a decade ago.

    Harry Shapiro of the DrugScope, the independent drugs information charity, agreed that a real turning point had been reached in England's heroin epidemic: "Things seem to moving in the right direction. The figures are showing an absolute decline in the heroin using population in Britain for the first time since the late 1960s."

    He said that was confirmed by the ageing nature of the heroin using population and the fact that young people's treatment services were now dealing with many more people with alcohol and cannabis problems than heroin.

    Shapiro said significant successes by the Turkish authorities in disrupting the traditional flow of heroin into Europe from Afghanistan via Iran had also played a role.

    Alan Travis
    Guardian 6th Oct 2011

    Or to put another perspective on things the funding received today is similar to the funding that was received in 2006-7.

    So that’s why we had a Heroin drought... Thanks for that, i was thinking the Poppy crops being blighted were to blame... :)

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