Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Friday October 28, 2005
Survey shows 11m people have taken drugs
· 4m admit taking class A substances
· Prison officers responsible for smuggling into jails
Nearly 4 million people in England and Wales have tried class A drugs - including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms - at least once. The annual British Crime Survey drug findings show that 11 million people, aged between 16 and 59, say they have tried some illegal drug at least once, with 3.5 million saying that they have taken them in the past year.
The figures show that since the launch of the government's drug strategy in 1998, overall use in England and Wales has remained broadly stable. Class A abuse, the most serious, has increased, mainly due to a surge in cocaine use up until 2000, despite the government's now-abandoned target of cutting class A abuse by 25%.
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<DIV =mpu_continue>Fresh Home Office research also confirmed the extent of abuse in prisons yesterday, and suggested that prison staff were one route for drugs to get in. The study found that smuggling by uniformed or civilian staff was thought to be "substantially increasing" the availability of heroin and cannabis behind bars. </DIV></DIV>
The figures show a fall in cannabis use in all age groups since the law was relaxed over the past 12 months.
But 9 million people say they have smoked cannabis, 1.75 million of them in the past month.
The picture for class A drugs has been stable over the past year, but there has been a fall in cocaine use and a rise in use of hallucinogens, particularly magic mushrooms.
Two million people say they have tried mushrooms, possibly because, until this summer, the class A drug could be bought legally.
Despite media coverage warning of a crack cocaine epidemic, only 239,000 people have tried the drug, against 1.8 million who have had cocaine. There are said to be about 16,000 regular crack users. It is estimated 200,000 people have used heroin; 21,000 in the past month.
Among young people (aged 16 to 24) the BCS estimates 45% have tried illicit drugs at least once, 26% in the past year and 16% in the past month. A million young people, or one in eight, have used a class A drug.
More generally, cannabis was the most commonly used drug, followed by cocaine, which is now more popular than ecstasy. There is also significant use of amyl nitrate, also called poppers, and amphetamines by young people.
Further Home Office research by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at King's College London shows that heroin, cannabis, non-prescribed medication, and crack cocaine were all in circulation at the six prisons studied.
Main routes of entry were social visits, mail, new prisoners, drugs thrown over the perimeter, and contact after court appearances.
More than half the prison officers and ex-prisoners questioned said staff were responsible for smuggling - the fourth most commonly mentioned route.
"Many of the staff who were interviewed acknowledged that such trafficking goes on, and could substantially increase the amount of illegal drugs available in an establishment," said the report.
At one prison a member of staff had been convicted of supplying drugs and sentenced to seven years.
Once an officer has been persuaded to bring in contraband, he or she is vulnerable to blackmail, the report said.
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