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Drug use in the United Kingdom (UK) - statistics & facts

Drug abuse or substance abuse includes misuse of illicit drugs, various psychoactive substances, and abuse of legal substances such as prescription drugs and alcohol. It is estimated that around 5.5 percent of the global population are users of illicit drugs. Furthermore, in 2018, over 35 million people worldwide suffered from drug use disorders. The United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of drug-induced deaths in Europe, with 76 deaths per million population. The United Kingdom has strict laws and penalties in place for those who are caught producing and supplying illicit drugs. Cannabis is the most widely used drug in the UK, followed by powder cocaine, MDMA, and ketamine. In the period 2019/20, the United Kingdom reported 225.6 thousand drug offenses. In the same year, there were over 130 thousand seizures of cannabis by the police and the border control force in England and Wales, by far the most of any drug in that reporting year.

Increase in youth drug use

The prevalence of drug use among adults has remained stable over the last decade. However, a rise in monthly drug use among adolescents over the last five years was reported, with levels returning to a prevalence last witnessed in 2005. In England in 2018, a survey found that 21 percent of boys and 15 percent of girls aged 15 years admitted taking drugs in the last month. The most commonly offered drug to school children in England was cannabis with almost a quarter of children reporting they had ever been offered the drug, followed by cocaine, and crack.

Drug deaths in the UK

In the United Kingdom, drug misuse is one of the major reasons for fatalities of people aged between 16 and 40 years. In 2019, over 2.3 thousand deaths among males and 983 deaths among females in England occurred due to accidental poisoning by drugs, medicaments, and biological substances. Opioids, particularly heroin, remain linked with the highest health and social harm caused by illicit drug use in the United Kingdom. Political discussions have taken place in the UK regarding the decriminalization of drugs and treating the possession of drugs as a public health issue rather than a criminal one to reduce drug-related deaths. In Portugal, the decriminalization of drugs has worked to massively reduce drug overdose deaths and HIV diagnoses linked to injecting drug use.


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