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Home Office Survey finds half of young people tried drugs.

Results from the 1998 British Crime Survey shows further increases in levels of drug use compared to previous years.

Half (49%) of young people aged 16-29 had tried one or more illegal drugs, with cannabis by far the most frequently used drug (42% of younger respondents 16-29, 25% of all respondents). One in seven illicit drug users (7% of total) reported never having used cannabis, but having used other drugs. Next in line were amphetamines (20%/10%), Poppers (16%/7%), LSD (11%/5%), mushrooms (10%/5%) and ecstasy (10%/4%). Although media reports indicated a large surge in the use of cocaine, lifetime use among young people was only 6%, or 3% for all adults of working age. Use of heroin or crack cocaine were very low, with around 1% of young people and slightly less of all adults admitting ever having tried heroin, crack or methadone.

When compared with results from previous years, the steady increase in use at all age levels becomes apparent, with record numbers of over 45"s having tried drugs. Although this partly represents a generational change, as those who have ever tried drugs progress through the age ranges, however, there was a a 50% increase in lifetime cannabis prevalence for the 40-44 age group in 1998 (20%), compared to the equivalent 25-29 age group in 1981 (13.5%). Furthermore, this figure appeared somewhat lower than would be expected, probably a statistical abberation, as the equivalent 35-40 age cohort in 1994 reported higher prevalence (21%). As this was not a longitudinal study, there will always be random variations in reported figures.

The figures most comparable with those from our regular users surveys would be the "used in past month" statistics. Fourteen percent of young people admitted cannabis use in the past month, or 5% of the total (7% of men, 4% of women). Given the results from our own surveys, the majority of past month users are likely to be daily users of cannabis. The young peoples "recent use" figure also is similar to the incidence of positive cannabis tests in road accident victims.

It is important to note that these levels of drug use were admitted by respondents using a lap-top computer provided by research staff, but otherwise identifiable in theory, subject to assurances of confidentiality. The not-absolutely-anonymous nature of the survey is thus likely to have deterred individuals from giving entirely truthful answers, so results are more likely to underestimate than overestimate prevalence and levels of recent or current use. Furthermore, in a "household" survey, individuals who were not at home when the researchers visited (e.g. out partying) or of no fixed abode (travellers/homeless), also more likely to have used drugs, would be underrepresented.

The study gives a wealth of information about drug users, including demographic data showing drug use to be highest in either affluent areas or depressed areas, and highest of all among unemployed inhabitants of otherwise prosperous areas. Unfortunately, although a large sample is used, respondents were not asked more detailed questions about frequency of use and the costs involved, or indeed prices of drugs.

IDMU has suggested further analyses within the "used cannabis/any drug in past month" group to compare prevalence and frequency of use with our own data.

The results are downloadable online in pdf (Acrobat) format from the Home Office Research Development & Statistics Directorate (RDS) website at (click on their publications link if list does not appear). Hard copies can also be ordered from the site via email (save your printer/eyesight):


A brief summary of results - Drug Misuse Declared in 1998... - is provided in a 4-page Research Findings paper RF93

The full document (110pp) is a Home Office Research Studies section paper HORS197

The RDS publications page is thoroughly recommended as a source of downloadable research studies covering many aspects of drug use, crime and penal policy.

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