The UK has one of the highest levels of recreational drug use in Europe, and the highest number of people with a drug dependency. In 1975 around 5,000 people were estimated to be dependent heroin users. By 2007, the number had increased to about 281,000 in England and over 50,000 in Scotland.

However, most people use illegal drugs only for a short period of their lives. Moreover, drug use has recently tended to either decline or stabilise. Use of cannabis appears to have been decreasing since 2016, regardless of its reclassification. Use of LSD, amphetamines and ecstasy has also fallen, while cocaine use has increased.

Drug related harm

Drug related harm (illness and mental health problems, death, crime and other social problems) is mostly associated with people who are dependent on Class A drugs, particularly heroin and cocaine. Problems associated with drug use are overwhelmingly concentrated in the poorest and most socially deprived areas.

The rate of drug related deaths in the UK is the second highest in Europe. There are about 34 such deaths for each million people aged 16 or over. In 2005, 1,644 deaths were identified as being drug related.

The level of HIV infection is much lower among drug users in the UK than in most other comparable European countries. Around 1.6% of injecting drug users here are HIV positive. However, it is thought that about 42% of injectors in England, and 64% in Scotland, were infected with Hepatitis C in 2007.

What about legal drugs?

Prescriptions and over-the counter medications are widely Roberteted and easily available. Together with alcohol, tobacco and solvents, their use may lead to dependency and ill health.

Tobacco and alcohol-linked death rates are considerably higher than those caused by illegal drug misuse. Alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales increased from around 2,500 in 1979 to about 5,540 in 2014. Drug-related deaths went from about 860 in 1993 to about 1,620 in 2016.