MORE young adults in Wales are using Class A drugs than at any time in the past five years, worrying new figures have shown.
According to crime statistics released by the Assembly Government, 70% of all adults in Wales using Class A drugs are aged between 16 and 24.
In 2008, an estimated 81,000 young adults took illegal drugs, and a further 33,000 experimented with Class A drugs like cocaine, Ecstasy and hallucinogens like LSD.
While there has been a clear fall in the proportion of people aged between 16 and 24 using cannabis (from 26% in 2004 to 18.2% last year), cocaine use has jumped from 4.1% to 7.9% in the year from 2007 to 2008.
Shadow Social Justice Minister Mark Isherwood said: “These figures are a tragic and worrying reflection of social breakdown and government policy failure both in the Assembly and at Westminster.
“The lives of too many young people in Wales are being wrecked by drugs such as cocaine. Addiction to Class A drugs is often the slippery slope to crime and related health and social problems.
“We need a series of policy measures which tackle the causes as well as the consequences of drug addiction, with early intervention, education and treatment, which fills the gap in residential detoxification and rehabilitation.
“This must place stronger emphasis on abstinence to prevent more young people becoming addicted.
“We also need action within the criminal justice system, with stiff penalties for those who deal drugs, and help for addicts to address the problem both in custody and in the community.”
Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan MP called for a dedicated border police force to deal with the problem. She said: “Wales has one of the worst drug problems in Britain yet a decade of government initiatives have failed to get to grips with it.
“The rise in use of Class A drugs in particular shows in stark terms just how Labour has failed to deliver on their rhetoric.
“Drug addiction causes family breakdown, ruins people’s health, and is linked to a substantial proportion of crime.
“We need a clear, consistent message that drugs are dangerous, backed by abstinence-based rehabilitation to get addicts off their dependency.
“We also need a dedicated Border Police force to stop the flow of drugs into the country, and tough penalties for those who deal drugs on our streets.”
Last week independent group the UK Drug Policy Commission called for a change in law enforcement to concentrate on reducing harm caused by illegal drugs.
The charity undertook its own research in which nine out of 10 police and law enforcement agents said the British illegal drug market was unlikely to be eradicated.
One of the commission’s subsequent suggestions was to move drug dealers from residential neighbourhoods into areas where they could cause less harm.
A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: “The Assembly Government is committed to reduce the damage caused to individuals, their families and society from substance misuse.
“Our strategy ‘Working Together to Reduce Harm’ sets out a 10-year plan for working with other organisations to achieve this.
“The strategy addresses four key areas: prevention, supporting substance misusers, supporting families and tackling availability and protecting individuals and communities.
“We believe education and information based on sound and credible evidence will be key to delivering this. Working with Community Safety Partnerships in all parts of Wales and other agencies, more support will be made available for substance misusers.
“This will include more investment in youth and other outreach services and an expansion of harm reduction services including those associated with injecting drugs. We have committed an extra £9.6m in the Substance Misuse Action Fund over three years to deliver this strategy, taking the total amount of funding to over £27m per annum by 2010-11.”
By Clare Hutchinson
August 4, 2009