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25/10/2007 00:00:00

UK: Young people using less cannabis since downgrade

Cannabis use among young people has fallen sharply since the Government
downgraded it to a Class C drug three years ago, according to figures
published today.

The proportion of 16 to 24 year olds who said they had used cannabis in
the past year fell from 25 per cent when the law was changed, to 21 per
cent in 2006/7, a total of about 1.3m youngsters.

But the findings show a continuing rise in the use of cocaine by both
youngsters and adults though the use of heroin and ecstasy remains
broadly stable.

The figures show significant increase in the use of amyl nitrate – the
sex enhancing drug known as poppers – among adults and increases in the
use of glue by youngsters.

For the first time, the figures from the British Crime Survey measure
the use of ketamine, the horse tranquiliser which and estimated that
100,000 of the adult population tried the drug in the last year.

The drug, known as “special K” and “tekno”, was used by more people than
crack cocaine or heroin – with 0.3 per cent admitting taking it in the
previous year, including 0.8 per cent of those in the 16-24 age group.

But the BCS admits that it is likely to underestimate the overall use of
heroin and crack cocaine and it does not interview those under 16.

Separate figures published today on drug seizures in 2005 show the
impact of the policy towards cannabis of confiscating and warning those
found with small amounts of the drug.

The number of cannabis seizures jumped 47 per cent to 114,202.

The figures also highlighted the increasing amount of home-grown
cannabis in England and Wales. Police and customs seized 208,357
cannabis plants of which 82 per cent were found growing in areas of less
than 50 plants.

Overall police and customs seized 69 tonnes of cannabis including 49
tonnes of traditional imported resin and 20 tonnes of herbal cannabis.

Gordon Brown has signalled that he may reclassify cannabis from a Class
C to a Class B drug amidst fears that there are links between more
potent strains known as skunk and mental illness.

He has ordered a review considering the link with mental health which
will report early next year. It is the second review since
reclassification took place in 2004.

The seizure figures also show that the average purity of amphetamines
and heroin seized has increased between 2004-2006 but the purity of
crack cocaine declined in the same period.

Overall the figures show that use of all Class A drugs, such as cocaine
and heroin, is higher than in 1998 though this was mainly due to an
increase in cocaine powder in the four years to 2002.

Among youngsters aged 16-24 the use of any drug fell from 31.8 per cent
to 24.1 per cent between 1998 and 2006/07.

An estimated 2.9 million people had used “poppers” or 9.1 per cent of
those aged 16-59, up from 8.4 per cent in the previous year. The figure
included 766,000 youngsters with 103,000 saying they had inhaled the
drug in the last month.

Vernon Coaker, a junior Home Office minister, said that the Government’s
ten year drug strategy had delivered the lowest levels of drug use in
over a decade.

“Across the country we have seen overall drug use fall since the British
Crime Survey first started measuring it in 1966.

“We are not complacent and know that there is still a lot of work to do
in tackling drug misuse, especially cocaine”.

Overall the figures show that use of all Class A drugs, such as cocaine
and heroin, is higher than in 1998 though this was mainly due to an
increase in cocaine powder in the four years to 2002.

Among youngsters aged 16-24 the use of any drug fell from 31.8 per cent
to 24.1 per cent between 1998 and 2006/07.

Almost 200,000 youngsters said they had used cocaine powder in the month
before they were questioned for the British Crime Survey.

Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope said: “British Crime Survey
figures suggest that overall drug use among the general population has
remained stable since last year, with an overall downward trend in the
last 10 years.

“This is clearly encouraging news but we cannot be complacent.

“The continued use of cocaine powder, particularly among young people,
is of concern.

“Our recent Street Drug Trends survey highlighted the increased
availability and affordability of powder cocaine, a drug which has both
severe health risks and the potential for dependency.”

Author: The Times on-line via UKCIA

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